Friday, 14 August 2009

What Will the Factory Look Like?

I have a strange form of kleptomania. Every now and then, I'll find myself browsing the internet, and find a link to a gallery of interesting images, and without any conscious thought as to why I'm doing it, I email myself the link to the page, to squirrel it away for viewing later on. I have no idea why I do this, but there seems to be a method to my madness (or, at least, a pattern to my preferences). Going back through my stash of links, the most prevalent galleries seem to be of Steampunk concept art, unusual places found by urban explorers, and galleries of Cold War era technology (both the Soviet stuff and the American stuff, although for the most part the Russian technology seems to incur a greater sense of grandeur).

Here are some examples:
American Titan missile bases
The Russian Space Museum
Pripyat, Ukraine - A ghost town abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

Now, I'm no artist (Lemon Scented Games will be looking to hire one at some point, when enough of the game is ready with placeholder art), but perhaps the reason I collect this stuff is as concept art, or fuel for ideas. Which is odd, because in my mind's eye the game has a kind of comic-book/graffiti art kind of style, and the factory in which much of the game happens is some kind of hybrid between Black Mesa and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. But maybe, just maybe my subconscious is telling me that if there was a way to take this Cold War style of machinery (it's not quite steampunk, it's... Atompunk?) but transplant it into the painted style of the game, the result could be something really breathtaking.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

On Fashion

I've been thinking about what's been fashionable, or what has been fashionable in various areas of game development. I've drawn no solid conclusions, except that fashion is something which is perhaps overlooked a lot of the time by developers and people who play games (I hesitate to use the word "gamers", since that in itself has become unfashionable). Off the top of my head, I can think of a lot of aspects of games which became fashionable, enjoyed a period of popularity, and then fell out of favour somewhat.

- Point & Click adventure games. Became cool in the early-to-mid 90s as a more colourful extension of text adventure games. Fell out of favour when it was widely realised that one overly annoying puzzle could completely halt progress in a game and that the only fix was a walkthrough, which somewhat detracts from the experience. The last great adventures were Grim Fandango and The Longest Journey, right at the end of the '90s. They're enjoying a bit of a comeback now due to the works of Telltale Games, but they feel a bit watered-down in their recent incarnations.

- Lens Flare. I forget when this was first introduced, but in my mind it's cemented as being a hallmark of Sega games (and other vendors of Blue-Sky games) in the mid '90s, as a way of emulating the effects of sunlight on a real-life camera. Graphical tricks have a history of being incredibly cool at the time, and then getting old fast: parallax scrolling, rotoscoped animation, particle systems, bump mapping, HDR lighting, depth of field... All of these things look like wonderful innovations at the time, but get tired quickly.

- Physics. Games have had physics since Spacewar, but for a while having a particularly realistic physics engine was a selling point. It was happening before, but for me, Half Life 2 was the first thing that really made my jaw hit the floor. Now, realistic physics are practically expected in many genres even if they add little to the gameplay, and a game which advertises its physics as a selling point is generally very focussed on the physics and little else (for instance, the Jenga-esque joy of Boom Blox). Physics is still hot stuff right now though, so long as you're willing to sufficiently raise the stakes -which is part of the reason we're doing fluid physics. We feel half-annoyed, half-vindicated by the fact that the makers of PixelJunk Shooter feel the same way.

I suppose it's a good thing for an indie to try to tap into an upcoming fashion in order to get recognition. Braid wasn't the first game to feature time manipulation, but it was early enough to get recognised for it - perhaps in a few years everyone will have jumped onto the time manipulation bandwagon and it'll be an old, tired concept. Something like Crayon Physics, on the other hand, took long enough to be released that although it's a brilliant game, it felt a bit "old" on release, because of all of the clones that shamelessly preceded it, and because games in general have begun to take physics plaything for granted. On the one hand, indie games have the flexibility and bravery to enter uncharted (or at least under-explored) new territories in gameplay and innovation, and profit from mapping them; on the other hand, indie developers might not have the means to get a game to market before today's New Cool Thing(tm) becomes tomorrow's Old News.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Money Money Money

There are a few reasons I started this blog. Partly it's because it's hopefully going to become a place where I can document my thoughts on game design, partly a place to show progress in the game that Lemon Scented is working on, and partly as a promotional tool for said game. Whilst it's weird right now feeling like I'm blogging into the void, because at the time of writing this, I have no readers I know of, I know that it's important to continue this endeavour alongside writing the game. The theory goes like this - there are two options about how Lemon Scented Games operates on the web:

1) I focus all my time on actually writing the game, and never update the blog/site. When I have a big announcement to make about the game, nobody will notice because nobody will have heard about Lemon Scented Games or what we're working on. If the news does get carried on other indie games blogs, people might come to visit the site, see that there's nothing else going on there, and forget about it.

2) I feel like a lemon (pun semi-intended?) blogging to nobody at all, in the hope that some people will stumble across this place and be interested in what they read. When an announcement gets made about the game, there is at least a context in which to frame that announcement, and when people visit the site, they'll see that "stuff" is happening here, and might perhaps decide to bookmark the place and check in from time to time.

Option 2 is clearly preferable, and that being the case, now seems as good a time as any to start posing questions to you, the person reading this. You might be reading this months after I post this, but stuff never really disappears on the internet, so now is as good a time to respond with your opinions as any.

When I started this blog, Blogger asked me if I wanted to "monetise" my blog with adverts, and I've been giving the matter some thought. My initial response was a gut feeling that putting ads on the site would somehow detract from the "Indie-ness", that somehow I'd hurt my "indie credentials" by accepting a bit of money (assuming the readership ever swells to those numbers) for advertising other peoples' stuff. But then I got to thinking that Indie games need to be inventive with their revenue streams, and that perhaps a bit of advertising on the side could be no bad thing.

This post about making money from indie games got posted recently. It's pretty grim reading. In fairness, our target platform is PC (initially, at least), and we're hoping to eventually get the kind of interest that might get us entered into a few Indie competitions, perhaps a conversation with Valve about getting distributed via Steam, but that's a long-shot, and even then isn't a guarantee at success. Perhaps our game can never make enough money? I wonder about alternative revenue models, like the Charityware of the excellent Glum Buster, or this idea about Ransomware, or the Pre-ordering which I guess fuelled some of the development of World of Goo, as well as provided them with beta testers... Perhaps this idea of "make game, sell game for money, try not to worry about the inevitable piracy" model is a bit too simple, and we should be looking at other ways to fund things?

Perhaps we will. Right now I'm just a guy with an out-of-date YouTube video of a tech demo, so it hardly seems right to burden this place with adverts or ill-concieved PayPal links, but the question of funding is an interesting one (to me, at least). It seems at the moment that the only way to survive is to either have a huge multinational corporate publisher backing you, or to be making games so small and cheap that you need to sell very few to make it worthwhile, and that trying anything in between is a path fraught with financial danger and spiralling credit card debts. I'm sure a successful business model will emerge for bigger-than-trivially-tiny indie games, but right now I'd be hard-pressed to predict what that will be. Any ideas?