Sunday, February 5, 2012

Desura

It has been quite the wild ride since I last posted here. I originally started out as a consultant for Desura to help them launch their Linux client and work with developers to get Linux games on the system, back in July. Now I manage all the games on the system and help developers get setup. Going through the beta testing of the Linux client was enjoyable and sometimes stressful as you tried to get things worked out before everyone else used it and had problems.

There has been an explosion of indie Linux games available. We are adding more and more games all the time. I am pleasantly surprised how many indie developers are now willing to make a Linux version. We have seen a lot of the old guard for Linux games join us on Desura as well. You shouldn't think it is all about money either. We have added quite a few free and open source Linux games to the system. I am glad about the number of open source projects that are turning out to support Desura.

I guess the biggest news lately was the push for the Desura client to be open source. I can now say it is open source and all of the source to the Linux and Windows client is available on GitHub. If you are a code hacker and want to dig in to the gaming client head on over and take a look and throw in some support.

I am hoping that some of the Mac open source programmers out there will take the time to port the client to Mac. We have everything setup but the UI part for getting Mac supported. We are now supporting Mac by letting users download Mac games from the website as standalone files without using a client yet. In fact any of the games will let you download a standalone version from the website if you just can't stand using a client. We are the only online store at this point that supports all three platforms.

Our Linux game titles have gotten to a nice selection. We are now the biggest online store for Linux games. I hope this will show more developers not only is there now a central location for commercial Linux games, but that there is money in releasing a Linux version. We probably won't have another Loki Games, but there are a lot of indie developers who could and should support Linux.

It should be very interesting over the next six months. If you haven't heard of Desura or used it before head on over and check us out.

Monday, May 30, 2011

What makes a good game tester?

I think so many developers, especially indie developers, get caught up in this idea that they need hardcore gamers to test their games for them and help them find bugs. There is certainly a need for that type of testing. There is another type of testing that tends to gets ignored. The issue of playability, is the game simply fun to play and do things make sense, and adaptive difficultly, does the game scale difficulty up or down well based on the playing style to keep the user challenged without frustrating them. Sometimes developers get very attached to their game or portions of their game and think that there is nothing wrong with them and that area is the best part of the game. The problem is that you and your team have been working with the game so long that it makes complete sense to you and seem logical and effective, but those on the outside and those who are not hardcore gamers are left scratching their heads wondering what the developers where thinking and what in the world are they suppose to do next to get to the next point in the game. I have found this myself in several games and I have been playing games for 30+ years. I have even had experiences where it seemed like the game was cheating or taking cheap shots to the point where I wanted to skip that section because it was no longer fun to play. So you have to wonder in situations like that if they bothered to have anyone from the outside actually play and test the game before they released it.

I think that for indie developers, it is important to appeal to as large an audience as possible given the type of game that is being developed. The biggest problem indie developers face is people even being aware that they exist and that they have a really cool game to sell to people. Given that exposure is a problem, indie developers need to work hard to make sure they turn every possible sale into an actual sale or user of the game.

The question becomes, what is the best way to do that? There is no one single snap answer that works in every single case. I will mention a few things to try that can certainly point you in the right direction. The first would be a usability testing round after the beta testers have helped to squash the major bugs and it becomes harder to find them. Once you get to that point it is time to do the unusual thing and look for testers who you might not think of as a target for the game or those who you wouldn't normal consider to test the game before release.  The best thing a developer can do is to grab their mother or a female friend of their wife/girlfriend and have them sit down and attempt to play the game with absolutely no more instructions than enough to get the game installed and running and nothing more. Then carefully watch them play and notice the pauses and other cues as they are trying to figure out how to play the game and what the goals of the game are given just what is presented to a random user who might purchase or use your game. Notice where it takes them longer and more attempts to get through areas and realise that the game isn't adjusting for their skill level or their style of play or whatever. Take note also when they become frustrated and realise one of two things are happening. Either they don't understand what is expected to get past this point in the game or that game has ramped up the difficulty level to far to fast or in a way that doesn't match their playing style. It is best to just watch them play and not comment or offer advice. The other thing is when they are finished ask them what the liked most, least and what one or two things would they change about the game if they could make any change they wanted. You just might get a few answers that surprise and hopefully help you build a better game.

This can't apply to every type of game out there. For example a real time strategy game would not be something your mother would have any interest in playing most likely, but if you can find those non-standard tester during development they can help you make a better game and reach a larger audience than you might have before.

Let us know your thoughts on this. If your a developer do you use a number of unusual testers, and if not have you ever thought about using them? If you are using unusual testers how have they worked out for you, and how do they help you in the development of your game? Let us know.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Vince Alive Review

Vince Alive
Vince Alive seems like it would be an interesting game.  The idea is interesting but suffers from some serious design issues in my opinion. The first level is quite difficult and doesn't ramp up slow enough to allow you to get used to the game mechanics. The inclusion of the the pinwheels in the very first level is a poor choice since it doesn't allow you to get used to using the bombs to launch the character. The main problem for me is the excessively difficult starting levels. The problems are compounded by the fact that there is no way to see the whole level to plan how you are going to get through to the end point. So you end up winging it and that again increases the difficulty of the game. Yes you do get a pan of the level at the start of the level but it is quick and doesn't give you time to see how you might want to clear it. There are also problems with the menus. When I select the second instructions screen to actually see the instructions the game freezes and I have to kill it and start over.

The game mechanics are innovative and the graphics are nice. Unfortunately there is a long list of problems with the game that need to be addressed by the developer. Until some of these items are addressed by the developer I am going to give this game a score of 1.5. I think the game could have the possibility to be a 3 or 3.5 if all these things are addressed.

Monday, May 2, 2011

BubbleSand Review

BubbleSand
BubbleSand is an interesting and unique idea. It reminds me of the sand picture frames you could get in the past and depending on how you turned it, effected what it looked like. It's an interesting concept but it has some problems. The biggest problem is the lack of clarity with the menus and exactly how everything works. I spent almost 10 minutes trying to figure out how to add more sand to the "picture". It also wasn't easy to figure out how to change the color of the sand from one color to another. I think a short YouTube video linked in the program to walk users through how the application works, along with showing how example pictures were done, would help this application immensely.

The other issue that I had with the application is that the background music would stop after a few minutes. I don't know if it was because the song was over, but it wasn't what I expected. Silence in a game is jarring and unsettling to me, unless it is an effect being used in a horror game. I saw some people mention that this was suppose to be a way to relax, but instead I found myself frustrated trying to do simple things. There are still some functions that I see in the menus that I have no idea what they do and when I choose them I don't notice anything different.

It would be nice to be able to import your own pictures as the backgrounds. The last thing is it would also be nice if you could pick more colors or do some kind of sliders/color wheel to pick what color sand you wanted to use. I think this would truly allow people to create some really interesting and unique sand pictures.

The concept is very innovative and natural for an iPhone application. It would be hard if not impossible to do this application on another device currently given the good use of the touch screen and the accelerometers, to tell which way is up. I applaud the developers for trying something different. Unfortunately there are several issue with the application that end up marring its score and success. I am going to it a three out of five. If the developers are able to fix these issues and add some of the suggestions, I can see this becoming a four star application easily.

Mix Match Review

Mix Match
Mix Match reminds me a bit of some of the Wii or Nintendo DS mini-game packs or brain training games. There isn't a lot to learn about this game. You move the center tile to one of the four corners that match the type of tile is being shown. You have shapes, letters, numbers, and yellow smiley faces. I ran in to several problems with the game. For a game that depends on speed, I had problems that it didn't always detect my swipes or it detected them wrong saying I was trying to move a tile to the wrong corner. I am not sure what the issue was given that Fruit Ninja and similar games work fine. The initial directions are printed in a very small font making it hard to read them and they do not adequately explain what is expected at each level. As I was moving up in levels it wasn't clearly explained what the goal of each level was such as how many tiles in X time or X time to do as many tiles as possible. The idea here is not particularly orginal as I have seen several programs do this exact thing in brain training type program. It would help though if the directions for each level were make clearer.

The game mechanics are quite simple, and everyone should have no problem understanding what to do once the objective is clear. The screen-shot here shows that the "C" title is in the center so you would move/swipe the tile to the upper right hand corner where the "ABC" title is located.  You can see the numbers, faces and shapes in the other three corners. If you try and move a title into the wrong corner you will hear a bell sound letting you know that your attempting to move the title to the wrong corner. The game mechanics are all that hard. It is the fact that everything is timed and must be done quickly is what adds to the difficulty causing you think fast and accurately. It is developing pattern recognition as well as hand-eye coordination. The combination of the two are suppose help your brain.

The application is listed in the Entertainment category, but I tend to think since it is so much like brain training programs that perhaps it should have gone in the Healthcare & Fitness category since things like these are suppose to help improve your brain's "health".

Given that this game is not particularly innovative and we have seen many of these types of applications, it starts out with only one star. The graphics are not particularly outstanding or impressive, but then given the game type I'm not sure what could be done to make them stand out. I'll give it another star for adequate graphics, but nothing special. The game mechanic is good, but the execution leaves something to be desired and may end up frustrating some people. This results in half a star due to issue of detecting correct movements reliably. This results in two and half stars for this application. If you don't already have a brain training program then this might be something you want to pick-up, especially with the cost being so low right now at its introduction.

Pilot Winds Review

Pilot Winds
Pilot Winds has been in development for some while. If you are familiar with Tiny Wings then you will find the game somewhat similar. It has really wonderful graphics and the game play is a great time waster for when you only have a few minutes and want something to play for just a short period. It is also great for short periods of gaming because you don't have to remember where you are in the game from the last time you played.

The mechanics of the game are very similar to Tiny Wings. The biggest difference is that in Pilot Winds you press in the bottom right corner only, and you press through both the down slide and part of the up slide as well. It does come in a free version that offers a nice play mode. It is the purchased version that begins to shine with its six different play modes. There is checkpoint (also in the free version) in which you must race to a checkpoint in 60 seconds. If you make it then you race to the next one with any left over time added to your available time. Velocity requires you to keep your speed up or the game ends. Mad Minute asks how many points you can get in 60 seconds. The Bonus Play mode has you trying to see how many bonus points you can get as your only point source and make it to the checkpoint in 60 seconds.

The game works very well for what it is trying to do. I am afraid that given the long development time, allowing Tiny Wings to be released first, may end up hurting it. The multiple game modes may convince some to purchase this game. My biggest problem with the game is after playing Tiny Wings is that it just seems more of the same. It doesn't seem that the slide ropes varied that much. The music in the background was very annoying over time to me, thankfully you can turn it off. I also had very infrequent issues with the game stuttering causing it to break the flow of the game. I couldn't see a pattern as to why they happened, fortunately it only happened once in a great while. I would have liked to see the bonus mode have the same countdown timer game mechanic as velocity mode, where you had to keep getting bonuses to keep playing.

Given the fact that this game came out after Tiny Wings, normally I would have given it one star as a me-too/clone, instead it gets two stars because of the long development. The extra game modes are nice, but they aren't large variations on each other, so that only gets half a star. The graphics are well done and fit the theme and mechanics of the game well. It isn't a bad game, but for me it doesn't rise to greatness, so I am only giving it another star. I am giving it a total of three and half stars.