Monday, December 5, 2016

Mutant Mudds Double Pack - PSN Exclusive!



Mutant Mudds Double Pack!

I am delighted to announce that we have partnered up with our pals at Nighthawk to create a very special muddy bundle coming soon to PlayStation! For the first time ever, Sony players will be able to get their hands on our all-new Muddy sequel, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, as well as the award-winning game that kicked off the whole muddy invasion on PS3 and PSVita in 2013: Mutant Mudds Deluxe. That’s right! You get both games for the price of one, marking the arrival of the classic Mutant Mudds Deluxe for PS4 on December 6, 2016. The Mutant Mudds Double Pack will be available for a limited time only, so act promptly to take advantage of this very muddy offer. Coming to PS4 and PSVita!



You know something that’s really cool about this offer? Not only do you get to save a ton of money, you also have the perfect tools to become the ultimate masher of muddiness. How so? Well, some folks find the difficulty of the sequel, Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, a real slap in the face without prior experience of the first game, whereas veterans of the original are frothing at the mouth for moar spikes! So, if this is your first time battling the mucky mutants, you can start your adventure with the original game, Mutant Mudds Deluxe, to hone your skills before bringing the pain to the deplorable dirt bags in Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, which includes six epic boss encounters that are sure to test your mettle!



While you count the seconds until this very special bundle is available, please take a journey with me down muddy memory lane…

It all started in 2011. We were busy working during the day on projects with publishing partners, while in the evenings we were working on our passion project. At the time we didn’t even have a name for the game. We just knew we wanted to make a fun and solid platforming experience that captured what we loved about the NES and SNES era of gaming.

One of the first features we got working in Mutant Mudds was the ability to leap between three playfields via launch pads, taking you far into the background or close-up in the foreground. I remember when we finally got this working in the game, and it blew me away. I’d always wanted to jump into the background. To create this effect, it took a combination of many things. First off, we displayed the far background at a much higher resolution than the other layers, and from there we scaled up everything 200% to create the middle playfield. The foreground layer was scaled up 300% from the background source.



Next, we applied a distance tint or fog effect to the background to push it back a bit. In the foreground we created a silhouette effect by having all of the platform art transition to black. And the final touch that really established the sense of depth came from a focus effect that blurred the layers slightly based on the player’s location. If the player was in the middle layer, both the background and foreground would be slightly blurred. When the player leapt into the background, the middle layer became slightly blurred and the foreground got even more blurred. I hope you agree that the final results work pretty well to create a fun and unique setting.

To create a sense of progression across the game and also ramp up the challenge gradually, I spent a great deal of time categorizing the different types of challenge ingredients that we created for the game and listing them in order from easy to difficult. This included not only enemies and hazards, but also small jump, long jump, crouch to avoid projectile, and many other details of the player experience. I then created a table that listed all of the challenge ingredients and all of the levels, adding a checkmark where each element was introduced first to the player. This enabled me to craft a few things. It helped me set a gradual difficulty curve throughout all of the levels in the game, and also ensure new elements were introduced to the player over the course of their experience to keep things interesting. It is this aspect that makes the original game a great primer before jumping into the sequel. The sequel is quite different in this regard!



When it came time to create a sequel to Mutant Mudds we immediately thought of the Lost Levels from the Super Mario Bros. series. The Lost Levels was the official sequel to Super Mario Bros., released in Japan. However, it was deemed too challenging for North America at the time and was replaced by a different “Super Mario Bros. 2” in the form of an adaptation of Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic.

We loved the idea of what Lost Levels set out to do: give fans of the original game a literal continuation of the first experience with increased difficulty. Even though that was the seed of the idea for Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, we also took the opportunity to add a ton of new content that we felt would improve the overall experience, such as boss encounters, all-new level art themes and music, secret passageways, new pick-ups, 20 hidden playable characters, and unlockable soundtrack (featuring over 40 tunes)!



The biggest difference with Mutant Mudds Super Challenge is the fact that there really is no difficulty curve. It starts out hard, and continues to be hard. Even the intro levels pulls no punches. You may die. A lot. We added a handy death counter so you can keep track of your failures. Yeah, sorry about that. To counter that slap in the face, you’re able to visit any of the levels in the main worlds from the beginning. So, if a particular level is giving you a hard time, you can visit a different level and come back at a later time with a fresh perspective.

Something that makes our job so satisfying is when we hear positive feedback from players who are enjoying our games. It is truly a magical thing. One of the biggest highlights for me was when Shuhei Yoshida tweeted out his Muddy progress from a flight he was taking from US to Japan. When the President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Interactive Entertainment shares his enjoyment of your game, you’re having a great day! When Mutant Mudds Super Challenge released on Vita, he even went on to say it was a sequel to his “favorite action platformer.” We love you Yosp!




Thank you all for your support. I hope you enjoy the special bundle we have put together for you. Please share your experience with me on twitter. You can find me here: https://twitter.com/JoolsWatsham. Peace!

North America





Friday, November 4, 2016

Healthy Time for Indies?

Every videogame developer/publisher faces the decision of which platforms to support with their new creations. Often, this decision is based on where they believe they can sell the most copies of their game, but sometimes is it influenced by an emotional bias. As far as I know, no one has a crystal ball that shows us the future, which means all decisions have the potential for success and failure – although, the odds for success are surely on the side of those who use market data to help them decide.

The videogame industry is at an interesting point in time with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both now three years old (first released in North America November 2013), and we have the recently unveiled Nintendo Switch home console / handheld platform on the horizon (set to release in March 2017). The Nintendo 3DS is over five years old (first released in Japan February 2011), and the Nintendo Wii U is four years old (first released in North America November 2012). Sony’s often forgotten handheld device, the PlayStation Vita, is now five years old (first released in Japan December 2011). And, finally there’s Steam as the #1 source for PC/Mac games – a huge market!


Based on previous platform cycles, we have at least four or five years of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One support before we potentially see their replacements released. It is difficult to predict how the Nintendo 3DS market will be impacted in 2017 with the release of the Nintendo Switch, considering its hybrid nature. It is likely Christmas 2017 will be Nintendo’s last big push for the Nintendo 3DS. Sadly, the Wii U’s era has come to a premature end, having never reached its potential in the market. I think the PlayStation Vita still has some life in it, especially for enthusiasts, but no one knows when or if we’ll see another handheld from Sony.

In the home console market, PlayStation 4 is the current leader over Xbox One in terms of hardware units sold to date. Sony announced PlayStation 4 has sold over 40 million units, compared to a speculated 20 million Xbox One units. In the handheld space, Nintendo 3DS has sold over 61 million units, compared to a heavily speculated/debated 10 million PlayStation Vita units. The Wii U has sold over 13 million units. I am not sure if there is an accurate estimate of how many active Steam users there are, but I think it is safe to say that it is likely tens of millions.


61 million | Nintendo 3DS
40 million | PlayStation 4
20 million | Xbox One
13 million | Wii U
10 million | PlayStation Vita
TBD | Nintendo Switch
Tens of millions | Steam

So, where does this leave developers who want to release their games in the future? The clear favorites are PlayStation 4, Nintendo 3DS, and Steam with a tremendous number of hardware units in their respective home console / handheld / computer markets. However, these software markets are all highly competitive with a great selection of first-party and third-party titles to choose from and many more high-quality titles on their way. The Xbox One and PlayStation Vita also have great software libraries, with the PlayStation Vita currently seeming to lag in software support compared to Xbox One. Sadly, releasing titles on the Wii U right now is probably unwise. Fortunately, there are plenty of other healthy markets to consider.

Let’s throw the Nintendo Switch into the mix. In contrast to the reveal of Wii U, the Nintendo Switch has generally been received very positively by the public, gaming enthusiasts, and the media. What was a confusing and fumbled message with Wii U, is a clear and interesting concept with Nintendo Switch. The Nintendo Switch is different, fresh, and intriguing. None of these things could have been said to describe the Wii U reveal.


For indie developers, the launch window of a new platform can be a great opportunity to release new original games. It is a time when players are generally more willing to consider buying new games to get the most out of their new hardware purchase. It is also a time when the number of titles available is at its lowest, potentially offering less competition. However, there is likely strong first-party and third-party AAA launch titles to compete against. The best strategy is to not directly compete with the big AAA titles, but offer your own unique experiences instead.

Since a new hardware release begins with zero hardware units sold, the sales potential can be difficult to determine. In the case of Nintendo Switch, it seems likely that it will have a better launch than Wii U, but that sadly is not saying much. In the month of January that followed the Wii U’s November launch, only 57,000 units were sold. By comparison, the original Wii sold 435,000 in January, also two months after launch.



As such, putting faith into the sales potential of an exclusive launch title on a new hardware platform is a risky endeavor. Therefore, we often see ports of older games at launch from third-parties, or we see non-exclusive new titles that are included as part of a multiplatform launch strategy. In some cases, the hardware manufacturer may be able to offer incentives for developers/publishers to release exclusive content within the launch window of a new platform to counter the increased risk.

All things considered, the best strategy for the average indie developer at this time seems to be a multiplatform approach. If you want to support a single platform, there is not a definitive option. Steam, Nintendo 3DS, and PlayStation 4 offer the largest install base, which is important, but they also have extensive software libraries to compete with. However, they do still offer great potential for a single platform release, with each having very different audiences. The type of game you are releasing will play a big part in which market might be best suited.


For technical and logistical reasons, not everyone can support a multiplatform release. In my experience, a staggered release of a title on multiple platforms can have negative results. I believe a simultaneous release on all platforms is the best bet for maximum exposure of your game in the press and subsequently, potentially greater overall sales due to this. If a small delay is unavoidable, I think a week or two delay between platform releases will result in minimal loss of momentum/exposure/sales potential. Larger delays between platform releases will result in loss of buzz with less media coverage, and result in potentially less sales.

For the past 10 years with Renegade Kid, we released our games primarily on Nintendo handhelds. Fortunately, the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS were both successful in hardware sales. As a small developer, with minimal overhead, we could develop big games on small budgets. When we had the bandwidth to bring our games to other platforms, it was typically many months after the initial launch of the game. This resulted in less media coverage/excitement and therefore less-than-stellar sales.


Unfortunately, we are not currently able to consider releasing a launch title for Nintendo Switch, because Nintendo of America has restricted developer access to Nintendo Switch information. As a consumer, I am very excited about the Nintendo Switch. I’ll be buying it on day one! As a developer, however, we must wait until we are given developer access to the platform before we can consider Nintendo Switch for any of our future titles. It appears many indies in North America are in the same boat as us, whereas many indies in Europe already have access to Nintendo Switch devkits.

We have two new games currently in development. Chicken Wiggle will be released exclusively on Nintendo 3DS in early 2017. If it is received well, we will consider bringing Chicken Wiggle to other platforms at a later date. The other game we’re finishing up is the eagerly anticipated Treasurenauts, which was first revealed way back in 2013. Due to various reasons, the game has been put on hold numerous times to enable us to complete the development of smaller games. Thanks to the partnership with our good friends at Nighthawk, we are finally able to finish the game properly and fully realize its potential.


Treasurenauts is an interesting title because it is the type of game that could work very well as a multiplatform release. It features a fully-fledged single-player campaign as well as cooperative multiplayer “couch play” for two players on a single system (split-screen). Even though the game started out as a humble 3DS title, it has since increased in ambition and scope. As such, we brought home consoles into the plan long ago to maximize the games’ potential in terms of player-enjoyment and hopefully sales. I will have information to reveal on the release date and the supported platforms for Treasurenauts soon.

In closing, I think it is a healthy time for indies to release their own games. There are some clear favorites in regards to potentially successful single-platform markets, and some great opportunities for multiplatform releases. The future inclusion of Nintendo Switch is sure to add one more healthy option for indies to consider for their creations. It’s a good time to be indie.

Thanks for stopping by. Please share your thoughts below.

Monday, August 29, 2016



RENEGADE KID FOUNDERS EMBARK ON
NEW SOLO VENTURES

One chapter ends.
Two new exciting chapters begin!

AUSTIN, Texas – August 29, 2016 - Renegade Kid has announced that its co-founders, Jools Watsham and Gregg Hargrove, have made the difficult decision to bring their 10-year partnership of developing games together as Renegade Kid LLC to an end.

With their friendship and respect for each other still very much intact, Watsham and Hargrove will continue developing videogames under the names of their new companies: Atooi and Infitizmo.

The award-winning library of Intellectual Properties that Renegade Kid has created over the past decade will be finding new homes. All of Renegade Kid’s “2D” games, including the Mutant Mudds series and Treasurenauts, will become the property of Atooi. All of Renegade Kid’s “3D” games, including the Dementium series and Moon Chronicles, will become the property of Infitizmo.

We hope you will share in the excitement that both Jools and Gregg feel for their new journeys. You can follow their progress on twitter: @AtooiLLC and @InfitizmoLLC.

About Renegade Kid LLC
What started with Dementium: The Ward in 2007 turned into a fruitful decade of developing top quality games in many different genres, including first-person shooters, racing games, 2D platformers, and even cutesy puzzlers! With 14 titles contributing to their prolific legacy, Renegade Kid has received numerous awards, much critical praise, and dedicated fans – which is all truly appreciated. The spirit of Renegade Kid will live on through Atooi and Infitizmo!

About Atooi LLC
Retro roots. Modern mojo. Founded in 2015 by Jools Watsham, Atooi is focused on the development of retro inspired games that capture the essence of the past and unite it with the magic of tomorrow. Atooi properties: Mutant Mudds series, Xeodrifter, Bomb Monkey, Treasurenauts, and Totes the Goat. For more information, please visit http://www.atooi.com

About Infitizmo LLC
Infitizmo, a multimedia company founded by Gregg Hargrove in 2016, blends interactive gaming, music, and web-based storytelling to create a fun and multifaceted entertainment experience. Infitizmo properties: Dementium series, Moon Chronicles, and ATV Wild Ride / ATV Renegades. For more information, please visit http://www.infitizmo.com



A copy of this press release is also posted at http://www.renegadekid.com

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NX Could Offer Very Green Pastures to Frolic in!



New console releases are always exciting – especially when it is Nintendo who’s releasing new hardware. Nintendo has proven itself to be creative and not afraid of risks when it comes to new hardware, having pioneered many firsts in the gaming space, such as Gameboy, Virtual Boy, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii to name but a few. Some have been more successful than others, but that is to be expected when you’re trying something different from the herd.

The anticipation for Nintendo’s next platform – codenamed “NX” – is perhaps the most exciting in Nintendo’s long history in the videogame business – certainly for fans and pundits, at least. The NX is potentially coming much sooner than most expected. The Wii U was launched in North America on November 18, 2012, putting just 4 years between it and Nintendo’s new console if 2016 marks the year for NX. For comparison; the Wii launched on November 19, 2006; putting 6 years between consoles launches. And, for further reference; the GameCube was released on November 18, 2001: 5 years between it and the Wii.

A big factor that makes the NX intriguing is how the performance of the Wii and Wii U may have influenced the design of the NX hardware and the timing of its release. The approachable, family-friendly Wii sold approximately 100 million units worldwide, whereas the unfocused Wii U has sold approximately 12 million units to date. For reference; the GameCube sold nearly 22 million units in its lifetime and the Nintendo 64 sold nearly 33 million.

Even though Nintendo has more cash in the bank than some small countries, they still have the need and desire to succeed. I believe their goal is always to attract the largest audience possible to their hardware and software. They are the only videogame hardware manufacturer in the world that has created and successfully cultivated a large library of software brands that are known around the world by gamers and non-gamers alike. Neither Sony nor Microsoft come anywhere close to this achievement, despite wonderful platform exclusives such as Halo and Uncharted.

If you were Nintendo, what would you do to ensure success with your next console platform? You have reliable, well-known brands that include Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Smash Bros., Donkey Kong, Metroid, Animal Crossing, Yoshi, Star Fox, and even relatively new brands, such as Splatoon and Pushmo that could be considered successful in their own right. You have some close third-party partners, such as Square-Enix, Platinum, and KOEI Tecmo who have produced top quality titles for Nintendo platforms in recent years. What do you do?

What do we know so far, for fact? We know the NX is releasing sometime soon – whether it is 2016 or 2017 is TBD. We know the specifics of the hardware is being kept a strict secret from the majority of developers. When you consider these two facts together, this suggests the NX may release with one or two first-party titles, and maybe a small collection of third-party titles from close partners. We have seen this type of launch before with numerous Nintendo platforms, with varying degrees of success.

If we wanted to stack our deck, as it were, and do everything within our power to ensure success, wouldn’t we rely on our internal development and close partners to ensure the first year of releases is paced out carefully and jam-packed with dependable games that complement each other? Yes, we would. We would not rely on the standard third-party support because, let’s face it, it’s unreliable. Instead, we would craft a plan that we knew we could accomplish because we were going to do it ourselves and with our close partners.

What does this do for the player? It presents a feeling of Christmas morning (or your relevant day of gift-receiving joy) for an entire year! That feeling of new and awesome software releasing month after month for 6 months straight, or dare I dream, an entire calendar year!? It would generate so much customer excitement and loyalty that the atmosphere surrounding the NX would be undeniably infectious, and everyone within earshot would need to take a peek to see what all the hubbub was about. It would be awesome!

However, what does this do for the third-party developers/publishers? Well, if you’re a big player, such as Activision or EA you might dip your toe in when/if hardware sales start to look strong, but only if it doesn’t require unique effort outside of your multi-platform plans already put in place. On the other hand, if you’re a small independent developer struggling to make ends meet, the NX could offer very green pastures to frolic in. Nintendo make a certain style of game, and even their partners often make Nintendo-style games. So, as an indie developer you could find plenty of holes in the first-party-heavy NX library to fill with your unique titles.


The launch window of a new platform is always a good time to release original games. I for one am very much looking forward to learning more about the NX. E3 2016 can’t come quick enough!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dementium III Kickstarter Campaign




At the moment of this blog post, there are 538 retweets on the Dementium III kickstarter tweet. An impressive amount for sure!

https://twitter.com/JoolsWatsham/status/694732406729781249

A little back story: Last Tuesday evening, February 2 2016, I tweeted out a call to action for folk's to show their interest in us running a kickstarter campaign for Dementium III. Anyone that liked this idea could show their support by retweeting the tweet. After our failed Cult County kickstarter campaign, we needed to have some confidence in public interest before going into a campaign.

Even before a kickstarter campaign goes live, there is a tremendous amount of work and money invested to present a well thought out concept and plan. Our goal with a kickstarter would be to present a project that is not only appealing, but also something we can accomplish, i.e. deliver on!

The magic number of retweets I am looking for is in the range of a few thousand (3000 would be ideal). The hope would be to have the majority of the people who retweeted translate over to becoming kickstarter backers, giving the project a much needed boost of support when the campaign goes live.

As I am sure you've realized by know, we're nowhere near the number of retweets we need to move forward with a kickstarter campaign for Dementium III. This does not mean the dream has to die. But, it does mean that we need some help. We need your help to get the word out to all horror fans who want to see a new dark and twisted survival horror experience on their gaming platform of choice.

In an effort to avoid this anguishing in hell for too long, we need a deadline to reach our goal of 3000 retweets before every one of you and every one of us is driven insane with false hope. :)

Show your love for Dementium III before the clock strikes midnight (EST) on Valentine's night or forever hold your peace! That's next Sunday, February 14 btw. :) Thank you for your interest and support.

For a little more info, check out my interview with Ryan at Rely on Horror.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Game Reviews Are Kind of a Mess

Each person has a gaming fabric. Not something they can hang on the wall or cover their bed with, but something more nebulous that determines their personal likes and dislikes in regards to video games. Some people’s gaming fabric may include the embrace of genres such platformers, role playing games, first-person shooters, rhythm games, etc – while some may be fueled by pure aesthetics or other personal pleasures. Each person’s gaming fabric is unique, and it is formed over years of gaming experiences, but when people with similar or dissimilar gaming fabrics talk about games, they can enjoy the common ground of discussion regarding their likes and dislikes.

When I was a young lad, videogame reviews were a little different than they are today. When a magazine gave a game a score, you felt like it really meant something. You knew where it placed a game among its peers. If The One magazine scored the latest Bitmap Brothers’ game 40% or 80%, you were able to process that score based on how you felt about previous scores that magazine had given other games. It was like The One was a single person, with its own opinion. A single gaming fabric you could rely on for consistency – a hive mind of writers coming together to offer a single voice.

Whether you agree with someone’s opinion or not is a different matter, of course. Everyone has their own unique opinion and each person will react to practically everything in a different way than someone else. And that, my dearest of friends, is why I think the current state of game reviews is a mess. A joke that I heard many years ago: “Opinions are like assholes; everyone has one and everyone else’s stinks.” Funny, and sometimes true!

Many video game review websites and magazines today lean towards promoting the expression of their individual writer’s opinions. Walter Writer may really like the latest game from Gary Game Maker, and score it 90%, whereas Jenny Journalist may dislike it, and would have scored it 40% if given the chance. This is fine, in concept, but it devalues the overall value the website or magazine can offer due to the fact that the opinions offered are varied and inconsistent with scores that may have been stated by the website or magazine in the past.

Adopting the approach of individual writer expression is an admirable thing to do, and it is the right thing to do in many regards. It is a more laser focused opinion than that of a hive mind. However, it does not reflect the website or magazine at large and therefore requires the reader to be aware of the fact that this is not the opinion of the site/magazine but the individual, instead. You are not tapping into a single gaming fabric, but potentially three, five, or more.

I say “instead”, because I believe most people visit websites and read magazines with the assumption that the opinions are from the “site” or “magazine”, and not purely the opinion of the person who wrote the review. Sure, most of the expression is of course from the writer, but an editor typically proof reads every review for flow, spelling, grammar, and to ensure it reflects the style and legacy of the site or magazine itself. After all, if their scores are to be included on a site such as Metacritic, they want to offer its readers some sense of consistency, right?

A review score given to a game is seen as a measurement. A low number means the game is bad, and a high number means it is good. If that score needs to come with the caveat that this is a personal expression of a single person’s experience and is not necessarily connected to other scores presented by the site, then I think the value of that measurement becomes a tricky thing to quantify. In almost everything else in our lives, a measurement is reliable. The height of someone is not an opinion. It is a fact. Sure, a score given to a game is not a fact, like a measurement is. It is an opinion. However, having a review opinion be that of a “site” or “magazine” is more helpful and easier to understand and digest and thus provides a greater service to readers than presenting a myriad of opinions to decipher the true meaning of.

There are some situations where an individual’s opinions are the entire point of a website, such as Jim Sterling. Having originally been the reviews editor for Destructoid and with the Escapist for a short period of time, Jim went solo in 2014 and now runs his own website that offers his personal opinion of video games: http://www.thejimquisition.com/. This is a perfect example of where a single writer’s opinion is extremely valuable. You can rely on Jim’s opinion to be consistent, because you can get a sense of his likes and dislikes from his history with games and how he has rated games in the past as an individual.

However, when reading a website or magazine that offers opinions from a variety of different writers, the reader is required to become knowledgeable about the individual who wrote the current review to know how it fits into the writer’s gaming fabric. It is perhaps ironic that many websites and magazines are leaning towards the individual writer’s opinions because it encourages readers to seek out individual writer’s opinions they value and avoid those they may not, which could lead to lower overall readership if their preferred writer did not review a certain game or it can encourage more solo ventures like Jim Sterling.

OK, now I have that aspect out of the way, let’s move onto opinion versus analysis. In my opinion; an opinion of a video game is a relatively simple and natural expression of how something affected you while you were experiencing it. I use the word simple in relation to how the individual is free to focus on the single train of thought of how it affects them, and not need to explore outside of that framework. An analysis is a relatively complex study of how something functions as a single entity as well as where it sits among its contemporaries.

To me, an opinion piece is for entertainment. Analysis is for information. These two things can (and should) be combined to present an entertaining and informative piece that helps the reader understand the game by offering some kind of anchor for them to measure it by. A pure opinion piece may not help the reader understand the qualities of a game, as too an analytical piece may not effectively reveal the qualities of a game. But, when combined they can offer much more.

If you have ever used the phrase, “It’s not for me, but I can appreciate it for what it is,” then I think you might make a good game reviewer. In my opinion, reviewing a game is not only about how it affects your own emotions or how it fits into your personal gaming fabric, it should also be about how well the game achieves what it was designed to achieve. Whether it is something you like or not is still valid, but I don’t think it should be the main focus of the review. Just because I may not enjoy playing Monster Hunter, does not make it a bad game in my opinion. I can see that it is a good game. It’s just not for me, yet?

So then, if I were tasked to write a review of Monster Hunter would it be fair or right for me to write a pure opinion piece and score it as an average game purely based on my own personal bias and how it fits into my gaming fabric? I expect many will say yes to this. But, to me this is a disservice to the readers and shows a lack of respect for the game because it is not an accurate reflection of the game. “But, it is an accurate reflection of your personal opinion,” I hear some cry. So what? Which is more important: my personal opinion of a game and how it fits into my personal gaming fabric or an analytical study of a game?

Well, I think both are important. But, the problem is that the majority of game reviews today are purely opinion pieces based on how it affected a single individual, and not critical studies, digging deeper and going beyond emotions and personal bias.

If I were to write a review about Monster Hunter stating that it is too complex and does little to guide or help the player ease into the experience it would technically be an accurate portrayal of my experience with the game. But, it would also show my ignorance of the game and discount who the game is made for and what the game does well and what the game may also do badly within the context of what the game is and what it was designed to achieve. I must step outside of my own personal taste, and consider the possibility that this might be designed for someone with a different gaming fabric than mine. Oh, the horror. Dare I say, “try to be objective!?”

A definition of “being objective” may go something like this, “Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” Some people like to belittle the idea of being objective by literally stating the facts about a game, such as requiring button presses and containing polygonal creations on the screen. I think being objective is a little more complex than that. I can objectively say that Madden NFL 2016 is a good game, even though it is not something I personally enjoy. How is this? I can analyze the controls, gameplay, visual and audio communications presented, and many other features that make up the whole experience and determine that the game achieves an admirable level of sophistication. If I then combine this objective view with my opinion of the singular parts, such as art, audio, context and such, I can determine whether I think those individual elements are of quality and how it combines to make a whole experience, and also compare all of these attributes to similar titles.

Looking at the art in Madden, for example, I think the polygonal models and texturing of the characters and environments is expertly accomplished and consistent with the developer’s intent to create a believable experience. The audio also delivers a high quality aesthetic that when combined with the visuals create a world that produces an emotional reaction – one of excitement and competition.

I don’t want to go into too much detail with Madden as it is a massive game, but hopefully you get my point. I think it is not only possible for a review to present an individual’s opinion and objective analysis of a game, but I think it is vital that reviews do so. Sure, it may be uncomfortable to step outside of one’s own skin and go beyond personal opinion, but I think that is what readers deserve.

This does not invalidate opinion pieces. Hearing someone’s pure opinion of something is very valuable, especially if you trust that person’s opinion. But, it is not always helpful. Everyone’s gaming fabric is different. If the individual whose opinion you trust happens to review a game that is a bad fit for them but a good fit for you, then you might miss out on that experience if you put all of your trust in that opinion. However, if that review is more of an analytical-opinion combo review and not only focused on their personal experience, then you might then be able to see some of the game’s qualities despite it not being a match for the reviewer’s taste.


I feel as though I should also add that as a game developer, I gain much more satisfaction from reading detailed analytical reviews than pure opinion pieces, because critical analysis shows the writer’s thought process on how they came to a conclusion and demonstrates their understanding and perspective of the game by looking under the hood to judge the inner workings and not just the surface experience of the game and their personal taste. To appreciate something, you must break it apart piece by piece to understand how it works and if it works well.

Thank you for reading this rather long blog piece. If you have a 3DS, you should purchase Dementium Remastered because it is a great game. And, if you have an iPhone of iPad you should do yourself the courtesy of downloading Totes the Goat, because it is fun and free! It's simple math, really. :)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Dreaming of Voxel Goats

Totes the Goat










What's Up?

One year ago I could not have imagined that I would be making a new game that was specifically designed for the mobile market – let alone be ecstatic about it! As such, I thought it might be a good idea to write about how I got here, how it feels, and where this might take me.

What About Nintendo!?
For many years I have been 100% dedicated to developing games for Nintendo handhelds. Sure, some of our games have also been ported to other platforms. But, they were all originally made for Nintendo platforms. Part of the reason for this when we started Renegade Kid was that it was a logistically sensible thing to do, considering my experience with the SNES and N64 prior to the release of the Nintendo DS. The other portion of my reasoning was my love for Nintendo, and my love for Nintendo handhelds. I love them, you see!

What has changed? Well, my love for Nintendo hasn’t changed. But, the market isn’t quite as healthy as it once was for us. I think it began with the launch of Moon Chronicles for the 3DS in May 2014, and was cemented with the release of Xeodrifter for the 3DS in December 2014. Naturally, everyone has their own opinion regarding creative works, so I accept that not everyone will agree with mine. From my perspective, Moon Chronicles and Xeodrifter are both great quality games that were released into a healthy market – a combination for success, right?

Neither game has sold very well, unfortunately. This is not based on my perception of what I think is a good number of units to sell. It is based on the revenue needed to fund a team of four with reasonable salaries and no office space overhead – basic return on investment (ROI). Sure, there are 100 reasons why these games may have not sold more, but the inescapable reality is that the tremendous effort required to create those games versus the reward did not add up in the end. It wasn’t for lack of trying on our part. It wasn’t for lack of support from Nintendo, either. It just didn’t work out.

Xeodrifter












What's Happening on the App Store?
On occasion I visit the App Store on my iPhone 5 to see what’s new and looks interesting. I was swept into the Crossy Road malarkey, and am still enjoying the occasional romp across the streets. I was impressed by the fact that an honest freemium game can be received well both critically and financially. At a time when I felt the mobile space was a wasteland of money gauging, Crossy Road showed that there is still room for more than just clones of Clash of Clan and Candy Crush.

This led me to start thinking about the mobile market. The beauty of the mobile market is that you can create a great game that is very simple, without the need of many people or much time, such as Crossy Road, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Temple Run, Subway Surfers, Two Dots, Alphabear, and all of Half Brick’s awesome games – to name but a few!

How Does it Feel?
OK, so that’s how I got here – now onto how it feels now that I am here! It feels great. Haha, simple as that. Even though I am still working on finishing up Mutant Mudds Super Challenge and Dementium Remastered, as well as finally delving into Treasurenauts, I can’t help but feel excited by the prospect of completing a tiny project. The sense of excitement I get from the concept phase of any game I have worked on is wonderful and magical. Development naturally evolves into production at some point, which is still a lot of fun, but as production moves forward the energy from the concept phase is replaced with the required discipline to keep marching forward, and only when the end of the tunnel is in sight do you start to get new energy from the excitement to see the finished game.

With a simple game, the concept excitement doesn’t have a chance to wear off before you’re already seeing the light at the end of the tunnel – double excitement! 

Some Development Details
I have teamed up with Gordon K. Larson, who I have worked with before, to make a new mobile game on the side in a hobby capacity while I continue to work on Renegade Kid titles. Gordon also has a fulltime gig elsewhere, so we dedicate weekends to the mobile game to balance out our efforts. We officially started the development of Atooi’s debut game on July 1, 2015. I was also lucky enough to enlist the code wizard himself, Matthew Gambrell, to help out post-launch with gameplay refinement and updates.

As you probably already know by now, our first game is Totes the Goat. Here’s a little write-up I did for it:

Totes the Goat is the debut game from newly formed mobile studio, Atooi – led by industry veteran Jools Watsham. A charming arcade experience with vibrant voxel art and easy-to-use swipe controls, Totes the Goat will have you happily hopping down a cliff like a kid. Leap from platform to platform – bringing each one back to life – while avoiding hazardous Wily Wolves, Cranky Crows, and Bully Bears – oh my! Once a cliff tier is fully rejuvenated, hop down the cliff to the next tier for an endless journey of jumps! How low can you leap? How totes is your goat?

That is a really fancy way of saying it is an endless Q*Bert with a Crossy Roads wrapper – but, some people don’t like to hear that sort of cheap talk - unless it can be quoted from someone else! :)

Totes the Goat -








What Was the Design Approach?

I approached this project very analytically from the start. I visited the App Store and looked at what were the top grossing free games, and I looked down the list. The majority of the games were games very similar to Clash of Clans and Candy Crush, as well as a wealth of Casino games and license properties that utilized a proven monetized formula – typically resulting in another clone of Clash of Clans or Candy Crush.

The first “original” game that stood out was a pool game, at #15, and then Criminal Case at #24, Racing Rivals at #26, Cooking Fever at #29, Tap Sports Baseball 2015 at #33, Trivia Crack at #45, my beloved Crossy Road at #48, and so on. If you are squarely focused on aiming for the #1 top slot, the current chart suggests you either create a “Candy Clan” clone, a casino game, a licensed game, or do something completely different and hope for the best.

I am not squarely focused on reaching the top slot. I just want to make a game that generates a little revenue. That is no small achievement in the mobile market. I wanted to learn what may have made Crossy Road so popular and see if I could tap into that “formula” somehow.

Looking at Crossy Road's Guts
My breakdown of Crossy Road: classic arcade gameplay + relevant art style + charm/humor + soft-sell monetization. In a nutshell, Crossy Road is a free endless Frogger executed in a colorful voxel art style with a cast of varied and interesting characters that bring more than just themselves to the game – they often alter the look of the world too. And, there is no forced advertising - only what the player chooses to view. That's what I refer to as a soft-sell.

One of the most clever aspects of Crossy Road is the gameplay loop and how the game over menu is presented to the player. Everything is geared around the player scrounging together 100 coins to unlock a new character. After your very first play session, you are immediately offered a free gift, which happens to be 100 coins! How fortunate!! Oh, and hey, what’s this? A new menu item appears telling me how I could spend the 100 coins: unlock a new character!

Coins can be collected in the game. They can be earned by watching videos. You can receive free gifts in the form of coins. You can even buy a piggy bank character that increases the values of coins in the game. Once you find yourself in that loop of coin desire, you may soon realize that you could just drop $0.99 to buy a certain character of your choosing – but that is your choice. No hard sell.

Sounds Good to Me!
Needless to say, I am trying to incorporate all of this loveliness into Totes the Goat. It is an excellent model for a simple “endless” game. Naturally, I am not the first to attempt this. But, that is also helpful for my analytical eye. How well have these other games incorporated this approach, and what did they do differently? Did it work better or worse? The main thing that is missing from the vast majority of games that seem inspired by Crossy Road’s example is the menu loop and how the many important elements of the system are presented to the player, which surprises me. This seems to be instrumental in the whole system working.

In games that have failed to communicate and/or support this properly there is a loss of variety in the overall experience due to the fact that most endless games are somewhat repetitious, and therefore rely on something to offer variety. In Crossy Road’s case, the variety comes from the characters and any effects they may have on the world.

If the player is not reminded of the rewards offered by the game (the characters) and the means in which the player can get their hands on them (coins), then the player will ignore any subtle small signs that attempt to suggest these or they’ll be utterly confused by the mixed messaging and quit.
Another vital element that is missing from many of the Crossy Road wannabes is with their rewards. The cast of characters, or more to the point: how do the characters affect the world? Just getting a different looking character is cool, but after you have one you like, you may lose the desire to get another. No rewards = no reason to get coins or spend cash.

The difficult thing is that all of this nonsense doesn’t even cover the gameplay experience inside the game. So, to create a good game AND an effective monetized system that is understandable and appealing is a tall order indeed. But, that’s what makes game development fun, right? 

Totes Screens









What About the Actual Game!?

OK, so with the idea that I wanted to create a game with classic arcade gameplay I went searching for ideas. What were some of the most popular arcade games in the old days? Which ones could be adapted to a simple touch control interface? Which ones haven’t already been done to death in the market? I was leaning towards a certain idea until a friend of mine suggested Q*Bert. It was such a perfect suggestion because I was already married to the idea of creating voxel art for the game, and not many games are suited as perfectly to voxels and an isometric view than Q*Bert.

I immediately ran with the idea. Now, just because the concept of Q*Bert had been established didn’t mean determining the gameplay would be easy. It is easy to make a terrible game based on Q*Bert. It is much harder to make a good one. And, do I make it endless or level-based? What are the controls? What is the theme? The world? The main character? The name of the game? All of these things were very important, and needed careful consideration.

I quickly decided that it needed to be endless. The vibe of an endless game is very different than a level-based experience where you are rewarded with three stars at the end, etc. Endless felt right. Once I had determined that the player would leap from one platform to another; I needed to figure out what you play as and where you play. I started to think about what might act like this in nature. I started writing down thoughts, and quickly a goat came to mind. Some live on cliffs and leap around. Perfect! And then the idea of leaping from one completed level down to the next made sense for a goat. It started to all come together very naturally. I love it when that happens. It doesn’t happen as often as I would like.

What's in a Name?
Almost immediately, Totes the Goat became the name of the game. I often use the saying totes ma goats, because I’m a dork, so a play on that saying felt suitably silly and fun. Totes the Goat was born… as soon as I secured the dotcom!

Speed Bump Ahead!
About a week or two into the development, my heart sank when I saw a new game in the App Store that looked very similar to Totes. I couldn’t believe it. Similar voxel style. Similar cliff/mountain concept. I felt sick. It was such a strange coincidence. I downloaded the game to get a feel for it and to find out if it was worth continuing development of Totes.

Thankfully, the gameplay was considerably different than Totes. It did adopt the Crossy Road approach with the swing of things, but all in all it was not a deal breaker for me. Phew. A scary experience, but one I thought we’d be OK with. The mobile market is so big that there seems to be enough room for similar games. Sometimes that can be helpful, and sometimes it can hurt. We’ll see.

Would you believe it, the same thing happened again the following week! Another isometric game, and this time it even had an actual goat as the main character. On a mountain! At least their goat was focused on only climbing up. The visual presentation was very different too. But, come on! Really!? Two very similar games releasing now, when there was nothing really like it before? Oh well. This is one of those times when you need to go with your gut. You either cut your losses and start again, or you stay the course. I stayed the course because I have faith in the core concept of Totes the Goat and that it offers something those other games do not.

Don't Forget About Me!
Another aspect that I researched was how games on the App Store are frequently updated. The way I look at mobile games is that they are more of an on-going service for the player, constantly providing updates both large and small. This is a great thing for many reasons. It is great for the player – receiving fixed/new content on a regular basis. It is great for the developer too – there’s a chance the game will be highlighted in the App Store as an updated title, plus it shows up on player’s device as an available update, which helps remind players that the game exists and may result in a new play session.

Updates are nothing new in the mobile market, but it is a unique aspect of that market when compared to most other gaming platforms.

My hope is to continue making updates for Totes, both big and small, to keep the game going in terms of new content and awareness in the market. In fact, we have already submitted an update for the game post-release and are hoping it is approved and released on Dec. 17. Fingers crossed for a featured spot on the App Store, but as it is one of the busiest times of year there is a lot of competition.
Totes the Goat - Featured














But, How Did the Game Get Featured on the App Store?

One of the most important and most challenging (and nerve-racking) aspects is trying to get your game featured on the App Store. This is what everyone wants as it can lead to more downloads and the potential of more sales. Sure, but how does that happen?

I don't think there is a guaranteed way to get your game featured on the App Store. Maybe if you're a huge publisher and/or have a highly anticipated game your chances increase dramatically. But, for the rest of us we need to do everything we can to increase our chances of being featured.

One of the first things I did, even before starting development of the game, is try to talk to someone at Apple about what things they look for when considering games for feature. I was fortunate enough to get a hold of someone who was willing to provide information in this regard. Good things to consider, include:
  • Game Center Support.
  • Metal (Unity) Support (or any relevant OS enhancement features).
  • App Size: Under 100MB (enables downloads to happen anywhere, and not require wi-fi).
  • Replay Kit.
  • Video Preview on App Store game page.
The list of features that may be attractive for being featured on the App Store will likely change a lot over time, so it is important to do as much research as you can by talking with other developers and the folks at the App Store if possible.

It is also important to think about your release plan as well as future updates. Something that is referred to as a "roadmap" at Apple. This is helpful for you as a developer to nail down your launch goal and also what you hope to add to the game in the future, and when you hope to release it. As with most digital stores, the more information you can provide to the team the better.

I did not know if the game was going to be featured or not until the day of release. I was insanely excited and truly grateful when I saw the little Totes icon on the App Store front page. To secure a spot on there as a first-time indie team, as Atooi, is a huge accomplishment and one I do not view lightly. I was prepared for it not to be featured, and amazed when it was!


How's it Doing?
In less than one week, Totes the Goat has been installed over 170,000 times and there are over 105,000 entries on the Game Center leader board (as of Dec. 10, 2015). It has a 4.5 star rating from 104 reviews on the App Store. To me, these numbers are great. A ton of people have played it, and they like it! That is half the battle.
So, all in all, not a ton of cash has been made from video ads / in-app purchases yet, but it is off to a good start for a small game that did not cost a lot to develop. It is all great information for me to digest and try to learn from and hopefully improve upon in the future. If there were annoying banner ads, and full screen pop-up ads after each death, and a forced video ad after 3 or 5 deaths, would it have made more money? Probably. But, what would that do to the long term user enjoyment and engagement?

Paying a dollar to remove annoyances is a practice many games employ on the App Store. I would prefer to avoid that kind of tactic, and that is why I chose a different route for Totes the Goat. Only time will tell if this will pay off. Because, in the end I need to make money from making games in order to make more games. It is a natural cycle. Fingers crossed the soft-sell approach of Totes will pay off.

Totes - top ten chart










Closing Comments

I am very excited and energized about the mobile market. It is an interesting and challenging place to try and make any kind of impact. I will be continuing to develop games with Renegade Kid as my full-time gig, and am equally as exicted to finish up Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, Dementium II Remastered, and Treasurenauts.
If you would like to check out Totes the Goat, you can find it here on the App Store. You can also see a bunch of other stuff about the game and the company here, at atooi.com.

If you like the game, please rate it on the App Store and share your enjoyment with a friend. :) If you REALLY like the game, please consider watching an insane amount of video ads or buying one of the characters. :D Thank you! The new update will feature some new characters, like this one... 

Totes the Goat - Snowy










How totes is your goat?


(Originally posted on Gamasutra)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Press Release: Moon Chronicles™ - Episodes 2, 3, and 4.



Game Title: Moon Chronicles™ - Episodes 2, 3, and 4
Platform: Nintendo 3DS / Nintendo eShop
Release Date: January 2015
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Action, Adventure
ESRB: T – Violence, Drug Reference

Game Description:
The continuation of Renegade Kid's exciting sci-fi first-person adventure, Moon Chronicles, is coming soon to Nintendo eShop.

The three remaining episodes in Major Kane's epic lunar journey will be released on the same day for download, giving fans the opportunity to experience the entire season without delay.

Players may purchase the new content individually, as separate episodes, or choose to go for the Season Pass, which contains all three remaining episodes for a lower price.

Players who already own Episode 1 must download the new update before they can purchase the new episodes.

Episode Summaries:
Episode 1 (Available Now): Major Kane’s investigation quickly spirals into a desperate search for lost team members and the discovery of troubling evidence.

Episode 2 (Coming Soon): Unknown Source. Will Major Kane find his lost team members beyond the second hatch? What is the peculiar “terrestrial” liquid the Kane is using to survive? What other mysteries lie beneath the surface of the moon?

Episode 3 (Coming Soon): Surprise Visit. Will Major Kane shut down the facility before he is overrun by alien troops? Is “Unkown Source” to be trusted, or is he leading Kane into a trap? The fate of the human race lies in Major Kane’s hands – is he up for the task?

Episode 4 (Coming Soon): Home Sweet Home? The thrilling conclusion of Major Kane’s lunar investigation takes him across the cosmos in search of answers to a place no human has ventured before. Will Major Kane end the alien conflict or will he fail, leaving the human race to perish?

Pricing:
                Season Pass: $9.00 – includes all 3 remaining episodes (Episodes 2, 3, and 4).
                Single Episode: $4.50 – one episode of your choice (Episode 2, 3, or 4).

Key Features:
·         The first true First-Person Shooter for Nintendo 3DS.
·         Gripping story-driven episodic action adventure.
·         Silky smooth 60 frames-per-second (with 3D on).
·         High-detailed geometry models for player (weapons, buggy, etc.), enemies, and key environment elements.
·         Real-time specular lighting on environments and entities (player, enemies, etc.)
·         Full-screen anti-aliasing (with 3D off).
·         Shadow maps, Texture filtering, and Mipmaps.
·         Circle Pad Pro support.

Publisher/Developer:
Renegade Kid

About Renegade Kid:
Founded in 2007 by Jools Watsham and Gregg Hargrove, Renegade Kid is an independent development studio based in Austin, Texas. A developer of handheld and console video-games, Renegade Kid is known for its award-winning titles including Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and the Dementium series.

For more information, visit http://www.renegadekid.com.

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Copyright © Renegade Kid 2009 – 2015. All Rights Reserved. Renegade Kid, Xeodrifter, Mutant Mudds, Moon Chronicles, and Dementium are registered trademarks or trademarks of Renegade Kid LLC. Nintendo trademarks and copyright are property of Nintendo.