Fall of Angels

Development Blog

I started a blog on indiedb, a fantastic site dedicated to independent games and their developers. I fully recommend a visit to anyone, not least because the indie games scene is a hotbed of creativity and worthy of our support. But anyway, I figured I'd post the blog directly to the Fall of Angels site too. It's mainly centered around being an indie developer, though I'd be more than happy to elaborate on anything Fall specific- just drop us an email!

18th October 2016: Testing complete

Testing completed today for the desktop version of Fall of Angels! We're currently in the process of preparing it for release after what seems like forever. It's difficult to forge ahead with these things while trying to juggle a career and house stuff etc., and as testing continues you find things that need fixing or adding to the game that then need testing again and before you know it months have passed...

Not any more though! We can finally put a pin in it and say Fall of Angels is finished.

As I write this I am waiting for the iOS update to be uploaded to Apple, after which I'll be uploading the Mac app version. Then I'll start the process of trying to get it on Steam. Watch this space!

22nd January 2016: Slow and steady…

It can be very hard to motivate yourself to do something that you care about sometimes. The things that you need to do steam-roll over the things that you want to do. Work. Housing. Projects for other people. Socialising*. Work out of hours that goes unnoticed. Porting your game to an unnecessarily awkward platform.

Keeping a blog has a terrible side-effect of letting me know how long it has been since I last put everything else aside to do what I actually want to do, which is write the next chapter of Fall of Angels. How long it has been since life would let me go.

I don’t know what the solution is. Inspiration comes and goes with its own whims and consciousness I guess, just the same as its close friend motivation. Perversely, despite being the thing that I enjoy the most- the Fall of Angels story being what it is, when things are going okay in life it can be hard to keep working at it. It’s when I’m at my lowest that I can see clearly in this one area. It’s always bitter-sweet when I get to elaborate further on the story of Tellus, but it is what it is.

Today is one of those days. One of those familiar days that I recognise is the start to me shutting out everything else and retreating into myself, and by extension the world of Fall of Angels and the parts of me that inhabit it. I have the PC port that is 97% done and needs me to complete it, but I don’t really feel any more motivated to do that than I do any of the other projects that keep getting dropped at my feet. What I do want to do however is begin putting the second chapter to screen- regardless of whether it will ever see the light of day- and when you feel the itch you have to scratch it. Truth be told, it’ll be nice to trade this world for Tellus once again for a few months, and hey- the handful of people that have asked me what happens next might still be interested!

Just one pesky train journey to finish before I can get home and make the transition.

*I’m putting this in the ‘rewardless time-sink’ category

20th September 2015: Sorry about the fish

There is a bug net in Fall of Angels, that can be used to catch fish (amongst other things). Fish can be eaten or sold, as can animal hides that you get from the monsters that you defeat.

Sorry about that.

A year ago I went vegan. It was one of the best things that I ever did for so many reasons, but rather than list them I'll just link to a vegan guru, nutritional expert, and good friend of mine Shaolin Swan. If you're vegan, check him out- he's the man. If you aren't vegan, read what he says and you soon will be. It is the only manner of eating that makes sense.

Having fish and animals killed, eaten, and sold like commodities goes against my beliefs, so surely I wouldn’t want that kind of behaviour to be in my game. It would be far too much work to change these things now in order to save pretend animals to be sure, though I did starve last night in Minecraft because I refused to kill the blocky livestock for food so I am still empathetic towards pixelated beasts. No, the work involved isn’t actually the reason that the bad behaviour towards animals stays.

The reason that I haven't changed it is simply because it makes sense that the people of Tellus kill and eat animals. Thematically these people do not reflect my own beliefs, morals, or opinions. I am not projecting myself through them, not for a second. I reiterate that to everyone that mistakenly thinks that the game and its story have anything at all whatsoever to do with religion; I have been asked about my views on religion multiple times owing to what is perceived to be a commentary on the subject within Fall of Angels. Without going into the deep routed inspiration for the narrative and subtext of the game (which I don't intend to do at this time) it is difficult to explain how far off point this is, but to think that Tellus reflects me in any way or that the Choir is a commentary on religion misses the core point of the narrative entirely.

So despite me not agreeing with the meat-eating nature of the characters, it does make sense for them to do it even though I believe wholeheartedly that this behaviour is wrong. The exception is the pigeon shooting section. Seriously, pigeons need to get got. I hate pigeons.

9th September 2015: The Importance of Testing

One of my biggest regrets with the first release of Fall of Angels (2011) was the manner in which I released it. I had decided that I would release the game before I went on a two week vacation to Japan. It was a tight deadline, but perfectly doable. A few last minute problems reared their ugly heads, and combined with Apple’s (then*) awful submission pipeline to make the deadline unrealistic.

Didn’t stop me though.

My bus to the airport left at 7:30am. At 3:30am I was still up fire-fighting bugs. In the most stress fuelled state ever, I submitted the game finally and headed out for my trip. Yayyyyyy!!!!

I was SHOCKED when the game turned out to have bugs galore in it, one of which was a game-breaker. Complaints from players came in, and I addressed them immediately. No wait I didn’t, BECAUSE I WAS IN JAPAN WITHOUT A COMPUTER. I had to fix them when I got home, and it was weeks later that it had a proper release.

There are many things to learn from this, though the main headline is ‘Don’t be an idiot’.

Manual testing is hugely important in any software project, especially games in which automated testing etc. is notoriously difficult. I’d argue that even with all the automated testing in the world you should still have strong manual testing but I’m not touching that topic with a twenty foot pole because TDD advocates are like rabid animals and might burn an orphanage down in retaliation. Regardless, manual testing is key to any successful game release, furthermore doing the testing yourself won’t cut it- you need someone else to test your stuff mang. Test your work yourself and you’ll always subconsciously shy away from exposing the flaws in your own creation.

This time around, I released Fall of Angels when it was good and ready. That included having a month of hardcore testing done by Alison Richer, who unearthed bugs that I would never have found myself. She even put smiley faces on the screenshots that she took of the bugs; that level of quality is hard to come by. She also played completely different to how I do, and in doing so found all sorts of problems. She used Thomas as a physical attacker. What the hell are you doing Alison, that dude has 1 for his attack stat, he is completely useless at physical attacks! I said. Turns out he is useless at physical attacks unless you use him repeatedly for a number of boss battles after which a bug caused his attack stat to go through the roof and he started one-shot killing everyone. I would never have found that, and Alison was ever so graceful in not rubbing my face in it.

The moral of the story is quality testers are worth their weight in gold. Get people to tear your game apart so that you can make it stronger, and release only when you’re ready. Also, don’t go to Japan without a computer immediately following a release.

* Apple have levelled-up massively over the past few years. Future blog post on that.

3rd September 2015: It's out!!!!!

Fall of Angels went live today on iOS! It’s been the culmination of years of work, a real labour of love. The Android version went live a day later, there have been far more complications with the platform than can possibly be considered to be acceptable with a mobile service (but more on that in a later post).

It’s still a tense time, I’ve got the dual responsibility of a) trying to market the game when I’m naturally an introvert and b) waiting in fear of a bug report for that one device/OS combo that causes a crash requiring an app update. Fingers crossed everything goes well!

I’m going to be writing a series of blog posts about my experiences with the intense development over the past few months, including some how-tos detailing the more complicated/frustrating parts of development. But for now I just want to send a big shout-out to the people that have supported and helped along the way, who made Fall of Angels a pleasure to work on.

Lee Pattison obviously- Lee created the designs for all characters, enemies, villagers etc. and did an amazing job. An absolute legend, one day we’ll get those millions bro :)

Keith and Ndidi, those guys have provided the belief and bravado needed to make me believe it was going to happen

L, who's insane crap helped push me to get my finger out

Swanny. Just, Swanny. Impossible without him

Finally Alison, the best tester I could ask for. She found problems I never would have, helped clean that sucker up, gave amazing info on how the game is played by others, and played through the entire thing many more times than I would ever ask her to. I absolutely loved the emails back and forth during beta testing, even if you do always take the side of the English language over mine ;)

Thank you all!

23rd June 2015: Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes is a competition being run by SpilGames and supported by PocketGamer. SpilGames are a publisher of mobile games, and so often they see indie games being released on mobile devices only to be swallowed by the vast, unfair leviathan that is the app store marketplace; relegated to obscurity by sheer bad luck, lack of marketing money, lack of flair*, or all of the above. In a ludicrously over-saturated market, so many indie devs see their hard work fail to get the recognition they deserve, and SpilGames want to help by raising awareness for the games that they deem most worthy of the title Unsung Hero. One lucky winner gets 50k worth of marketing as a prize.

An email bringing this competition to my attention arrived a month ago, when I was in a something of a rut. It was a massive kick up the backside to step up the development of Fall of Angels Super Mega TURBO edition- it gave me a hard deadline and a goal to aim for. I worked my ass off every possible moment, and today I finally submitted Fall of Angels to the Unsung Heroes competition. The submission was only a few text fields in which to sell Fall of Angels as a game worth backing (which is ironic considering sales/marketing is where I need the most help), so I hope it was enough to bring them here and check out the great things that are being said about Fall of Angels in the forums. I honestly believe that Fall of Angels deserves this kind of break- even today I got a text from one of our playtesters telling me that the game is too addictive and they’ve been playing it nonstop since they finished work!

Help in marketing at the same time we unleash Fall of Angels HD would be a life-changer. Fingers crossed!

* Read: garbage static graphics on the app store that have no relation to the actual game, I'm looking at you every pay-to-win KRPG ever

3rd June 2015: Torrido Boss

I’ll try to make this spoiler-free, though if you haven’t played the game up to this point I don’t know if it’ll make any sense.

I’ve recently been testing the boss in the Torrido Mines and can’t decide if it is a hard boss battle, or if I’m just rubbish. The fight occurs maybe two-thirds/three-quarters of the way through the game and is meant to be a difficult one- but how difficult should it be?

I’ve endeavoured to make Fall of Angels grind-free. I’ve always thought that having to stop the quest to go fight random enemies just to level up in order to pass an area is a cheap way of artificially extending a games play time. In Fall of Angels it is largely possible to run away from battles and avoid enemies for most of the game, so we have a balancing act with enemy difficulty: make the enemies too hard and players have to grind which I want to avoid. Make them too easy and players can get through the game by running away from battles and never fighting. The games difficulty has to be set so as to walk in the middle of these two. So when you have a difficult boss 3/4 of the way through the game- what is the appropriate difficulty? What level will the average player be at that point? How difficult does this boss have to be to be challenging without requiring the player to grind? Add to this the fact that the updated game now allows you to improve the different stats individually depending on which actions you perform the most often* and each player will have a unique character setup by the time they reach the Torrido mines. Judging what is a fair but challenging difficulty for this boss is a hard thing to call.

Testing a difficult boss can be challenging at the best of times, but the Torrido boss changes throughout the fight and has a unique death animation. That means that to test it fully you have to fight the damn thing all the way through to the end, over and over. The challenging boss. I can cheat and make the player characters OP, but if I beat the crap out of the boss with one hit then I don’t get to see how the boss behaves throughout a genuine battle or get any sense of it’s difficulty, so a lot of the testing requires me to fight him legitimately. You have no idea how many times that he took out my party towards the end of a battle and forced me to start the testing again. What a dick.

I think it’s worth it though. He’s one of the more interesting bosses in the game, and stands out as one of the highlights for me. It’s also a nice gateway to the next part of the game; after the Torrido mines the story starts to heat up, but if you’ve been coasting through battles up to that point then you have to work for it. The danger is that it becomes that one boss, so that means more playtesting, playtesting, playtesting… and resisting the urge to remove that lava kick attack because aaggghhhhhhh.

* I tweeted the other day that I was having trouble fighting the boss. Turns out I’d increased my character’s levels to face him, but neglected to increase their attack stats so all of my attacks were start-of-the-game weak. Oops

28th May 2015: Development Ramp-up

Making a game is a time consuming affair, especially if you’re a tiny team (that decides to make a 15 hour RPG). Without being able to work on it full time- which in itself would take ages- it can become a long slog, and finding motivation to work on something that is moving so slowly that it doesn’t seem to be moving at all can be difficult. In particular Fall of Angels is undergoing an overhaul with new maps; I know intimately how long the game is and how quickly the progress in updating it should be, but every time I add a new map or route then development speed towards the end of the game has the feeling of being halted to accommodate the world extension. Then other distractions get in the way, and before you know it you feel like you’ll never finish.

It’s made doubly hard when the previous concerted effort in releasing the first version of Fall of Angels ended in a demoralising lack of reach. It is hard to watch pay-to-win shovelware hit the top of the app store with poor reviews and Fall of Angels languish in obscurity. The world runs on marketing and flair and without the necessary money for either I was always going to need blind luck to get any kind of traction, but it still hurts.

But motivation is a weird beast, and sometimes the coincidences that happen are perfect enough to make me believe that the universe has a plan. One that involves my mobile game I guess, which would make sense; everybody loves games, especially universes.

The past couple of months have been a difficult time in my personal life, and I’ve found myself needing something to immerse myself in to take my mind off of things. Something to pour all of my time and energy into. I was sat wondering what I was going to do when I thought I’d check the Fall of Angels email account. I had an email letting me know that people have posted in a forum saying “what happened to Fall of Angels? That game deserved to do better than it did”. Literally at that moment my phone buzzed with another email, this time from PocketGamer who were advertising a competition to win free marketing for mobile games that didn’t get the traction that they might have and deserved to do better than they did. The submission deadline for this competition is in a months time- it will be difficult to complete the new upgraded version of the game in that time, unless I pour all of my time and energy into it.

When the universe is trying to tell you something, you listen.

So development has ramped up to a ridiculous degree this past couple of weeks, and will continue over the next month. I was hoping to finish the game sometime this Autumn- I’ll now finish in 3 weeks. Three long, intense, fun as all hell weeks. I’d forgotten how much I love game development, and how motivated I get when the pressure is on. The game is already ready for playtesting on mobile devices, and well on track. It just goes to show that when things get bad, there are always opportunities to do something good as long as you’re looking for them.

Watch this space!

28th August 2014: Android Conversion

In my last blog post I mentioned that once I have an idea that I believe in, I can't let it go. A few weeks ago I had the idea that Fall of Angels could be ported to Android. Dammit.

I looked into the possibility of an Android port several years ago, and I dismissed the idea because the effort required- multiple resolutions, entirely new codebase, poor library support- was too great. The same was true for a HD version on iOS (thanks for releasing the retina display a week after I released FOA Apple!). To redo all of the maps would take ages, and would require faster phones with more memory, which just weren't available at the time.

Not anymore though.

Times have moved on and all of these problems have fallen away. The libraries that I use have all improved immeasurably and now include wonderful multi-res support with 2 lines of code. The JNI (Java Native Interface) makes it possible to use C++ code in Android apps, which means minimal rewriting of the codebase. With Android devices being so powerful and popular it would be a great platform for Fall of Angels, and now there are no major barriers to us releasing on it!

Furthermore I am already 3/4 of the way through converting all of the maps to HD, and the shared C++ codebase makes porting between Android and iOS easy. Meaning?

When I finish the PC conversion it would take very little time to complete an Android port, at which point releasing an HD version on iOS would be a synch. That means that the new improved definitive version of Fall of Angels need no longer be limited to a PC release, but android and newer iOS devices as well. It bothers me greatly that the current iOS version of FOA looks so fuzzy on current iOS devices, particularly iPads. I also forget how many additional gameplay elements and new areas that I've added to the expanded version until I look back on the original release. I want to get this new content to gamers as quickly as possible, on as many platforms as possible.

I have already ported a lot of the code to Android to prove to myself that it can be done, and I currently have the game running on my Android phone and an iOS device. So the current plan now is to release the definitive version of Fall of Angels on PC, Android, and iOS by the end of the year!

20th July 2014: Porting progress

I've been steadily working through the maps of Fall of Angels, converting them to HD versions and tweaking them as I go. It can take longer than you might expect, especially seeing as unfortunately I don't have the luxury of working on it full time. During this process I often have what can only be described as bitter-sweet moments, which are the moments in which I get inspiration.

Wouldn't it be cool if X was in this area too? What if there was a path from here to X? Oooh, this stage of the game would be an ideal time to do X, and so on. An entirely new part of the map, new gameplay mechanic, new route.

Then I get excited. Really excited. Won't this new thing be awesome? Can I really imagine releasing the game without this new thing that it was fine without two minutes ago? But once the idea is in my head, it won't leave. To borrow a phrase from a famous movie, it's like a splinter in my mind that won't stop nagging until I make it a reality. If I don't do this new thing, then the game would not be as good as it could be- it would be incomplete and I would not be happy. This has to be a good thing right?

That's the sweet.

The bitter though is the additional time needed to do this new whateveritis. I'm trying to port Fall of Angels over to PC as quickly as possible, and every new idea for an improvement that I have grinds this process to a halt while I stop and create new areas/stuff. Don't get me wrong, this is for a good cause and I don't wish to do things any other way, but good lord does my stomach sink every time that I realise I've just had an inspiration.

Is it better to keep improving the game, or just get on with what is already there? It's a difficult balancing act. Better game = better, surely, but there has to be a line drawn; you can improve something indefinitely and never actually deliver because you're always tweaking and fiddling with it. I can't fall into that trap. I still plan on releasing by the time the year is out.

25th January 2014: EGXRezzed Leftfield Collection

Last night I submitted Fall of Angels to the EGXRezzed Leftfield Collection.

For those that don't know, EGX Rezzed is a video game expo being held in Birmingham on 28-30th March. It's run by the same people that run EGX London, formerly known as the Eurogamer Expo. The Leftfield Collection is the Indie game section of the show where independent developers such as us can apply for a stand at the expo to showcase their games.

Our submission included screenshots, videos, and the demo that can be downloaded here. If successful Fall of Angels would be seen by tens of thousands of people in what could be a life changing level of exposure. My fingers are so crossed they're beginning to hurt. This would be the very break that we need to bring Fall of Angels to a wide audience and work towards the sequel that we are frequently asked for.

If you are ready this anyone from Rezzed, my sister says that she will bake you cakes and cookies if you give us a place. They're really really good, you wouldn't regret it.

We're not actually strangers to Rezzed. When Fall of Angels was first being released on iOS a couple of years ago we applied to what was then the Eurogamer Expo Indie Arcade. We received a reply that iOS devices would not be shown that year so we didn't get a place, but we still went down to the expo and handed out flyers and stickers. It was a fantastic day out, we really enjoyed the expo, and we got a chance to look at the indie games that did have stalls. It strengthened our resolve, and we vowed to get there one day.

This year we have a PC version of FOA. Better graphics, more varied gameplay, a better battle system... a tighter, cleaner game. It's also a game that runs on any PC, and doesn't need an iOS device (though this year ironically iOS devices are available). It's our best shot at a place at the EGX Rezzed Expo, and so we've spent the past few months putting together a demo specifically for the purpose of our submission. If successful we'll do the same and create a demo tailor made for the show, wear costumes, bring loads of freebies to hand out, and make our stand the most fun place on the floor! It would be the greatest opportunity, and my Gods we would seize it with all the vigour it deserves. Let's hope karma is on our side these coming weeks!

Update: it wasn't. I don't think David Hayward likes me.

29th November 2013: New consoles

I saw a news piece the other day about the UK release of the PS4, and the people that have been camping out outside of games stores in order to be the first to get their hands on the new console. Putting aside the bathroom logistics (answer) and questions about whether or not these people have jobs, it makes me wonder what the inspiration for this is.

As with anyone with any connection or interest in video games, I've been really excited for the next gen to get into full swing and the PS4 in particular has my attention. The competition between Sony and Microsoft seems much more 'head to head' this generation than it has been in the past- they seem more evenly matched, they are being released at the same time, they have very similar launch line-ups. There's something very direct about the competition between these two, and that competition will drive them to push themselves which can only mean good things for the consumer. We've already seen Microsoft u-turn on some stupid/evil/wtf policies as a result of consumer backlash and Sony's mocking. There's plenty to complain about still... the XBone looks like it's trying to force itself upon us as an intrusive take-over of the living room where it's not wanted, and I'm deeply concerned about the patents that Microsoft and Sony have been filing. The new connectivity functions that they are touting do nothing for me- I don't have any desire to have my console monitor me as I play, nor do I want a simple slip of the finger onto the wrong button to result in all of my contacts being shown a video of me playing Dead or Alive one handed in nothing but my y-fronts. I am looking forward to playing some of the new games in the near future though, which is where my focus is no matter how many times I hear the word 'connectivity'.

I'm just perplexed and amused at the extremes that some people go for new technology. Just look at the launch of every single apple device.

The new consoles are just being born. Every single console launch in history has come on the tail of marketing bullshit about the console being capable of becoming self-aware and launching it's own space exploration program, every console has tried to pass of pre-rendered cutscenes as what every game will totally look like guys I swear, and a console's success has almost always been determined by the games that are released later down the line not at launch. If you have a great game as a launch title like Super Mario 64, then the balance must be redressed by not releasing any more games on that console for another 6 months. Another certainty is that the price of the console will always nose-dive shortly after launch because these companies know that early adopters have poor pattern recognition.

I have no doubt that the two new biggies in the console arena are great consoles and in a few months time I'll be getting one or both. When I do make a purchase though, it will be an educated decision later down the line when I won't have to sit in the rain pooping in a bag for a week. Buying a console at launch is all well and good, but there has to be a line drawn with how far you should go and camping out crosses it. That's a blind passion that I'll never understand. Well, not for games consoles anyway.

The last console that I bought at launch was the Nintendo64 when I was a teenager. There were few decent games on it until later towards the end of it's life, it dropped in price by £100 within months, the stores had millions of them in stock, and I missed out on the likes of Final Fantasy VII until much later than everyone else because I had the wrong console. Never again. Last year I picked up an XBox 360 with 10 of the best games in the past 5 years for the same price that that N64 cost without any games over 15 years ago. Combine that with Steam sales and I have far more amazing games than I have time to play, all for a cheap cheap price. Mmmmm.

Having said that, this is all part of the launch spectacle. It takes all sorts to make the world an interesting place, and seeing people on the news soiling themselves at the prospect of buying a new gadget makes me smile. It's an exciting time for gaming, and it's great to have crazy people as cheerleaders to keep us entertained as the next generation gets underway.

10th November 2013: Doki Doki Festival

Yesterday I went to the Doki Doki Japanese Festival in Manchester, England. It was a celebration of things Japanese organized to raise money for the orphans of the Tsunami disaster. There were stalls for anime, kimonos, martial arts, learning the language, watercolour paintings, sushi...

Doki Doki Festival

There were also events taking place throughout the day such as martial arts demonstrations, drum music, j-pop dancing, cosplay contests, the list goes on. I went hoping for a fun day out and that's what I got, but more than that what I really enjoyed was the people. Everyone there was so friendly and enthusiastic. Everyone wanted to chat and discuss their shared hobbies. People were being pulled out of the crowd to join in with traditional Japanese dancing demonstrations, dressing up as ninjas, posing for pictures with each other in costume. The costumes- were great.

Daedric Armour

It was so much fun spotting anime/vidya characters among the crowd. The atmosphere was so fun and free of judgement, something that has eluded me every time I go to the shops dressed as pikachu.

A party is only as good as it's guests, and this one was a blast. It was all for such a great cause as well- a huge thank you and well done to everyone involved!

28th October 2013: Whooooosh it's raining apparently

Stormageddon has hit England and we're all stuck in hurricane shelters hoping for mercy from the almighty Mother Nature, so I have had the opportunity to check out the 3DS virtual store for something to keep my morale up as we take the meteorological beating of a lifetime.

I feel this is a great point to stop and say that we have a slight drizzle and the British media have blown it out of all proportion and predicted the end of the world like they do every year. It is written in British law that once a year Her Majesty's subjects have to give our already pathetic excuse for public transport another excuse to cancel even more trains and trams than they already do. I hate you East Midland trains, I really do.

Anyway, in lieu of Super Metroid, Super Mario World, or anything from the SNES on the 3DS store, I picked up all of the Game Boy Zeldas, NES Metroid, and Doki Doki Mario. I quickly learned that they don't make modern games as good as they used to, and apparently I now really suck at games. I used to nail these games as a pre-teen kid, but now there's a big hole in my 3DS screen where the 'Load Save State' button is. I stone-cold didn't download Zelda II purely because I knew it would be too hard, despite finishing it as a child without any grinding or crouching in the bottom-left corner of the screen. When did this happen? When did I lose these hard earned life skills? Probably around the same time I got a job and discovered girls redtube I suppose. Different hand skills.

Nostalgia aside though, these games are really good (I always had a soft spot for Mario Mario Panic, I don't know why). It's also surprised me just how many of the 'great ideas' I've seen in games in recent years that actually turn out to have been done so long ago, I'd just forgotten the originals from which they were stolen. The level design on these games are fantastic, and they're full of clever ideas and OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IF THE GUY SAT ACROSS FROM ME DOESN'T STOP TAPPING HIS FINGERS I'M GOING TO BITE THEM OFF lovely little touches that inspire you to love them. They are so replayable as well, no save states mean starting from the beginning errytime and yet we did it and loved it. If I died at the last boss on a game now I'd set fire to the designer's arms, but it used to be acceptable challenge. Maybe we used to be made of tougher stuff than we are now. Maybe we have less time to play games/ shorter attention span now than we used to. Or maybe I just suck.

10th October 2013: Hobby and Passion

It's been a while since a Fall of Angels update. A long while. I remember a year or so ago I told a friend that I wanted to put in extra work to the Fall of Angels PC re-imagining, and he said "okay, just don't take years over it like they did with Cave Story!". I see now how the makers of Cave Story needed that time, and I am motivated by how great that game turned out.

In the past 6 months I have gone back to the world of work, and Fall of Angels has become my hobby worked on in my spare time. Worked on a lot in my spare time, but not full time as it once was. My new job is brilliant- the company is wonderful, the people I work for and with are some of the best I have ever met. It's a far cry from my dark days at IBM, and I am thoroughly happy. A large regular income has allowed me to emerge from my cave and pay my debts. I actually have a social life again. Life is good.

The development of Fall of Angels has not stopped though. Far from it, it has been going strong. Without the pressures of needing an income I have been able to focus on what is right for the project, and as such the game is taking a really nice direction; the world of Tellus is expanding along with the items, tools and side-quests that make the adventure so much richer. The PC port is so far along with so much extra content... it's terribly exciting. There are parts of the re-imagining that I can't believe the game could ever have been without, and I can't wait to share them with the world.

So, release when?

Well, it's no coincidence that I have begun blogging again, updating the website, and showing more material. The project is trundling along with a lot of momentum, and the definitive version of Fall of Angels is starting to take serious form. I don't have a release date yet, I learned a long time ago the dangers of plucking a random date out of my storage bunker- but we're no longer 'fleshing out' or 'laying the ground work'. My life has settled into a routine such that I am in the best place I can ever remember being. Work on FOA is blistering along, the project is in amazing shape, and a release is foreseeable. I will be blogging regularly to update on progress, and keeping all who are interested in the loop. The journey has begun again, and I'd love for anyone even remotely interested to come along with us.

3rd January 2013: Loss of an old friend

Last month Eurocom Entertainment Software laid off its remaining staff and ceased trading. This makes me sad firstly because they were a fantastic dev studio based on my doorstep in Northern England with over 20 years of history making games. But on a more personal level, it was my home for several years.

I got a job as a developer for Eurocom after finishing at University, and the amazing people there taught me more about games development in a month than any amount of study. I had the privilege of working alongside some true masters of game development, and some wonderful people that would give all the time in the world to teach the fresh faced newbie the tricks of the trade. I still have the lunchtime walks to feed Donkey etched into my memory as some of my happiest times; what I wouldn't give to relive them.

The good people of Eurocom also introduced me to Dragonforce, which is the best programming music ever and anyone who says otherwise just can't handle their awesomeness.

I wish the very best for everyone affected by Eurocom's closure. I'd love to hear from the hard to find friends that lost contact over the years (where are your Facebook profiles???); please get in touch if you ever read my ramblings.

On a less personal note, what does this mean for the industry? The decline in console game sales has been credited with Eurocom's untimely demise. Is this closure an indication that the industry is in trouble? Or is it just slowly changing to an online-only distribution model? The well known franchises that release vacuous identical sequels every 6 months (mentioning no names) still sell well. But just because Call of Duty sells well doesn't necessarily mean positive things for the industry... how many once great games franchises have debased themselves by trying desperately to pander to the same audience in order to increase sales because it's getting harder and harder to sell enough games to fund the increasing cost of modern games?

Perhaps the industry is merely changing, perhaps we aren't heading for another 80's style crash like some more extreme observers predict. There was a time when every other game was a Mario clone, and a time when we were drowning in Street Fight II clones after all. Perhaps the changing climate combined with easier distribution methods for small units (hehe) to release their games is making it ever more possible for indie developers to shine. Fingers crossed for that last one!

Time will tell. The casualties of these changes are a sad sight to see, either way. RIP Eurocom, you will be missed.

31st December 2012: Happy New Year

Happy holidays everyone, I hope Christmas has been as good to you as it has to me. In addition to the planet that I live on not coming to an end on the 21st I got a whole bunch of classic games that I missed the when they first came out, which combined with the Steam sale has made sure I won't be clearing my games backlog for a long time. I've also been given a bunch of huge bags of peanut butter M&Ms, which you can't get in Europe. They are the food of the Gods. I NEED THEM.

This year has been a fun one for the development of Fall of Angels. The iPhone version was completed early 2012, and after a few interim projects work began on the PC/XBLA version later in the same year. It's given plenty of time to get feedback and reflect on the game, and this knowledge is going to be put to good use. The PC/XBLA version will be expanded in scope and scale, in addition to improved graphics on the new platform. This post marks the beginning of a much greater quantity of updates on our progress on the website and indieDB page.

On a much sourer note, the pigeons that sit on the trees near my house coo-ing all day seem to have increased in number and coo volume. I've asked them nicely to shut up, but they just stare at me and do that thing where they jerk their heads from side to side, so I'm looking at the logistics of burning down all of the trees in my neighbour's gardens. Hopefully 2013 will see an end to this insurmountable menace.

Happy New Year everyone!

11th September 2012

Fall of Angels is currently undergoing a port from iPhone to XBox and PC. It's extremely exciting, and I am thoroughly enjoying working with Visual Studio and the XNA framework. Mmmmm.

It's been ongoing for a little while now, but is taking a bit longer than expected. This is not anything to do with the port, but rather other projects demanding my time- in an ideal world I'd just spend all day making games, but until Nintendo or Square agree to start funding me, bills must be paid. It is picking up momentum again now though, and hopefully there will be some awesome screenshots to post soon.

On a side note, once under your skin it is absolutely completely impossible to put game development on the back burner. I walk past a pub and instantly get nostalgia for the times spent planning games in there (we're British so we meet in pubs). I go for a walk in the woods and along the moors and start thinking of similar settings in FOA, pining for rpg adventures (probably not a healthy attitude towards the outdoors).

tl;dr - Really glad to be back on it!

8th July 2012: World 1-1...... again

Isn't saving your game a minefield of possibility and potential disaster?

Probably not, no.

It is quite interesting though. I've recently been playing LIMBO, a fantastic game on a bunch of formats including PC. It's an indie platform game, though to call it such is to do it a disservice- it doesn't rely on pure platforming for its thrills, rather an ingenious run of puzzles and set pieces. The graphical style is sublime as is the audio, but this isn't a review (however: buy it because it's awesome). What it got me thinking about was the way in which save-game/restart points are handled in video games. LIMBO auto-saves before every new puzzle/trap, so if when you die the first few times you don't have far to go to try again. It's brilliant because it removes frustration almost entirely. I couldn't help but wonder that if it was made by someone else (read: big name publishers) it would have split the continuous flow up into explicit stages, and forced the player to replay entire sections to get back to where they died; thus artificially expanding the play time at the expense of your sanity.

But then I thought- when the hell did I become such a wussy?

Platforming progenitor Super Mario Bros. had exactly that style of restart system, in addition to having no saves whatsoever- World 1-1 for you every single time you start sonny. Hell, SMB3 did the same and that sucker was massive. That's how real men used to play games (real men have always been Nintendo's firm gender preference), and we never complained. We played those bad boys until our hands bled on those sharp-edged pads and our lungs collapsed through blowing the cartridge over and over (stop sniggering at the back). If modern platformers were like that I'd be outraged. Yes, actually outraged due to a poor awareness of perspective.

The same goes for games from the same era that had passwords, passwords that were huuuuge. Seriously, you think I'm going to write a 30 character password down every time I want to save my game and not once come around to your house to kick your family pet? Apparently that was a fair assumption, because we never complained.

Even as recent as Final Fantasy X we had fixed save game points in RPGs (I stopped paying attention to the series after that one, here's why). Don't get me started on the Metroid Prime series, I love those games more than strawberry toothpaste but for the love of all that is holy those save game points were a million miles apart, and that really poked my bear. Resident Evil had that annoying ribbon system, which would many years later be transformed into Resident Evil: Revelations' absolutely genius system- the 'only one save file per account, no going back to redo a level that you like buster, hahahahahahaha, we're not even going to give you advance warning when the autosave is about to take place, hahahahahaha, we're going to give you a useless one-dimensional partner to keep annoying now that you're angry hahahahaha' system that makes me want to punch a tree.

Fall of Angels allows you to save your game at any point. This is partly because it is on a phone so you may need to quickly save and dash when you see the train ticket conductor coming your way, and partly because fixed save points seem so 17th century.

Has our attention span dropped? Have we become wussier? Or did we just put up with that crap in the 80's/90's because save game files hadn't been invented yet and we had worse things to worry about ? Perhaps it's because the amusement arcade is no longer the starting point for video games, so games are no longer made with a single play in mind.

Or perhaps nobody cares. All I'm saying is next time you boot up Fallout 3, start a new game and play it through without using savegames you big girl.

3rd July 2012: Fall of Angels- Part Three

(Part One and Part Two can be found as earlier blog entries, and are probably worth reading prior to this one).

My one hour demo of the RPG I had designed over the course of my bus stopover was pretty cool I don't mind saying. It was written in QBasic.

Now depending on your level of coding knowledge that either means nothing to you, or you just rolled your eyes/laughed out loud. See, QBasic is to programming what bashing a coconut repeatedly into your face was to the tool development of our caveman ancestors. Someone probably did it at some stage, but everyone else quickly learned from the resulting mess. Unfortunately QBasic was all I knew- the Computing teacher at my school (who was later fired for poor performance) only knew one language that he could teach us, and had merely hinted at some mythical Excalibur-esque prize for the greatest of programmers known as 'See-Add-Add', a prize that we would likely never taste. He also pronounced the word 'cache' as 'kay-sheh', but I digress.

Suffice to say QBasic was never going to allow anything beyond an NES level game, but by-golly I did it.

Yearning of the Sword screenshot

I was really proud actually, I wrote my own tile editor, character designer, level editor... the lot. After a great learning experience I had a demo, around one hour of exploration and battles that bear striking resemblance to Fall. I then decided it was going to be necessary to develop using a proper toolset on a much better system than the one it was currently on if it were ever to be seen by a wide audience. Alas university cranked up the workload, and time went out of the window. Incidentally they didn't use see-add-add at university either because of their belief that C and it's many variations were going to be obsolete by 2005, so I had to teach myself in my spare time along with DirectX and openGL. Good thing I didn't have anything better to do at the weekends than X-Men cartoons and waiting for broadband to be invented.

I still have all the code and programs- including the demo- which would make for an interesting experience, but unfortunately it won't run on modern computers. Without going into boring details the architecture of PC's has changed over time, so ironically my 8-bit quality graphics runs unplayably slow on a PC that can run Skyrim at maximum resolution. One day I may look into the options regarding salvaging it, but I have bigger fish to fry at the moment (Spoiler: Fall of Angels port to PC).

The demo did help me get a job at Eurocom Entertainment Software working on the latest Pirates of the Caribbean game amongst other things though, so it was productive in that sense as well as the personal experience. And it will make a great easter-egg in a future Fall of Angels instalment.

25th June 2012: FOA Update

Last week I began porting Fall of Angels to other systems with a desire to bring our game to new audiences. I haven't been this excited about a project since, well since I finished Fall of Angels on iPhone. Once again I find myself getting up before my alarm goes off and jumping out of bed because I want to work, which is a fantastic feeling when compared to dragging my resentful carcass through the day in a manner that would make George Romero proud.

I just had to double check whether I meant George Romero or John Romero. One was a movie director, the other has just fabulous hair. Seriously, do a google image search.

So my porting start has shown me two things right off the bat:

1) Visual Studio 2010 marks the official first time that a piece of software has made me feel. Right here... (I'm pointing to my chest)

2) Fall of Angels is a huge fu truckload of code

I've never been one to get excited about technology or software. Probably because I have always used it for work (combined with not being attracted to computer hardware)- it's all just a means to an end. However having not used Visual Studio for a few years and coming back to it after having to use a number of other IDEs finally made me feel an emotion that isn't on Yoda's dark side roadmap. It's sleek, efficient (no hanging or stuttering, no suspicious background activities hogging resources), has an intellisense that actually works, fast and feature-rich, proper debugging/error messages, oh I'm getting in a sweat just thinking about it. It's an actual professional-grade piece of software. When I saw that there is actually real documentation for it's functions and libraries, I cried. Thank you Microsoft, this makes up for hotmail. Don't look at me like that, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The porting is speeding along just nicely. I'm sure there will be a roadblock or two that I don't see coming just yet, but for now it's smooth sailing. There is a ridiculous amount of code to convert, but it's all good fun so I don't mind one bit. I even think that the pigeons have learnt to stay away from my chimney. The world is good. SMILEY FACE

10th June 2012: To Port or not to Port

I face a dilemma. Well, not really a dilemma. It's one of those times like lighting your own farts on fire to impress a group of girls, or smelling your finger. You know that there's a potential for debate there, a choice with pros and cons attached to each course of action, but at the same time you know you've already made up your mind. It's better to sniff and regret than to always wonder if this time around it smelled differently to the last.

I forget what my point was.

Porting. Fall of Angels has been out on the iPhone for quite a while now, and it's received great feedback from the people that have played it- but not as many sales as I had hoped. I didn't have aspirations for millions (though of course it would be nice), just enough to enable the development of the next game. Or enough to afford socks. Looking at the options, I don't have a team of artists willing to work for me for free, so Final Fantasy 13 quality graphical prowess showboating is not on the cards. I don't have a marketing budget beyond wearing my 'Fall of Angels' t-shirts around town. But I believe in this game, I really do, and nothing in my life so far have I been so passionate about. I want to keep going with Fall.

Fall of Angels t-shirts

Not pictured: Fall of Angels bathrobe, underwear, lunchbox, and food stains on the front of the white shirt

So what about porting Fall of Angels to another platform? I had wanted to see if it took off on iPhone first, and the financial repercussions for time spent working on it are a concern. It theory I should get an office job and get a steady income again.

In theory I should stop quoting Doctor Who in bars too, but if I did that where would I be now? Not single probably. But the day a girl recognises one of these quotes, and finds my tourettes-level discourse to be endearing, is the day that I'll look back on and forever wish that I didn't ask that girl to smell my finger.

So I reckon I'm going to do it, beginning with a PC port. It'll be more time spent being poor, and it's not guaranteed to pay off, but damn it I enjoy doing it and hopefully it will lead to the next game.

If anyone else has had any similar experiences, do tell- I'd love to hear how it went!

21st May 2012: Fall of Angels- Part 2
Read Part 1 here.

A few weeks after our angel encounter, the trip came to an end at our friend's house in Ohio. The plan was for me to make my way back to Boston by Greyhound bus, and fly home to England from there. The Greyhound station was nowhere near my friend's house though, and the bus left early in the morning... so she kindly dropped me off at the station the afternoon in order to give herself enough time to get home before bed. This left me with half a day before the bus departed on a 14 hour journey.

There wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to risk falling asleep, or leaving the relative safety of the bus station without a tank. I didn't have any books with me because it wasn't 1873, but I also didn't have a laptop with me because it wasn't 2010, so instead I decided that the best way to make it through 26 hours of alone time was to buy an A4 notepad and a pencil and design that rpg that I'd always wanted to make. I also began what would become a long standing addiction to coffee. The previous 3 months of summer camp and travelling had left me with endless inspiration for an adventure, and that night in the storm- the over-religious town, the angel looming over us emotionless- all became inspiration for the setting. Fragments of story ideas I'd had over the years combined with trope subversions. I wondered which characters I would like to take such a journey with, and gave them form. The shadow that the angel cast covered the world and its history, and as mystery after mystery led to a plot resolution I realised that the time had disappeared.

When I got back to England I tried to write the game, but university and then work got in the way. I made a demo of the first hour or so of gameplay, which unfortunately won't run on modern computers. It became relegated to a pipe-dream for 10 years. The story evolved and elements were added to it over time. Every time I went running, every time I was out for a walk, every time I was in the bath I would play the story and characters out in my head, and over time I knew the world and its characters inside out. I even knew what the trailers for each chapter would play out like. I always wondered if I'd ever actually get to make it.

It wasn't until a career change 10 years after the night in Ohio that I decided to become an indie developer and finally make Fall of Angels come alive.

1st May 2012: I wasn't scared, I screamed because... I stubbed my toe

I'm currently playing 'Resident Evil: Revelations' on the 3DS, and it's a great return to form for the series. There are a few questionable design choices that I can't quite get my head around, such as having a completely useless AI companion all of the time which removes the sense of lonely isolation (actually I do understand, someone spent months doing the AI for them so they'd better be used in the final game dammit). But I'm having loads of fun and I'd fully recommend it to anyone.

By coincidence I was talking to a friend recently about the Thief series. As far as I'm concerned, the three Thief games are amongst the most underrated games ever made. I absolutely adore them. The characters and setting are wonderful, the gameplay is perfectly balanced and nuanced, and the world is immersive and detailed in exactly the right way- you can complete a level and still miss most of it. Every time you play through you'll find something new, every time you go off the beaten track to explore you find a place that you didn't even know was there. It rewards a clever player, not just because it hides so many of its wonders to encourage you to look for them, but also in its gameplay. It doesn't hand-hold you, it doesn't simplify itself for you, and if you play on the highest difficulty setting- which you always darn well should- then the only way that you can succeed is through skilful thieving, imaginative use of the environment, and perfect timing.

Which is perhaps why they are cult classics and not a huge commercial success. Unfortunately not everyone wants to be rewarded for skill and out of the box thinking, a lot of people just want to shut off in front of the computer. Seeing the Thief games in the bargain bin just 6 months after release breaks my heart. Anyway, anyone that has played the Thief games knows exactly where that segue from Resident Evil to Thief came from.

The Cradle.

The Cradle is a level in Thief: Deadly Shadows that terrified me in a way that only one other game has ever been able to. I played it in the early hours of the morning on my own in the dark, and on one occasion it actually caused me to scream out loud and smash the 'off' button on my PC repeatedly with my fist to make it all stop. The level is pure genius, and Thief isn't even a survival-horror game. It has been bettered only by one other game series- the indie game series Penumbra.

My sweet lord, I swear those games shortened my lifespan by a few decades. As far as scary survival horror is concerned, the Penumbra games are the benchmark to beat- I love my Resident Evils and Silent Hills and these games have enjoyed more commercial success, but they don't even hold a flickering torch to Penumbra. I wont describe them, because either a) you've played them already or b) you should go and download them right now and play them. Like the Thief games, the Penumbra series SHOULD be amongst the most popular games of all time but are instead cult classics, so you can pick them up for a low price giving nobody any excuse but to play these masterpieces.

17th April 2012: Fall of Angels- Part One

Fall of Angels is a role-playing adventure game that I developed for the iPhone along with artist Lee Pattison. It was released in November 2011, and since then it has been receiving great feedback- we're just hoping for enough commercial success now so that we can continue to make games. Fall of Angels has a longer history than that though.

I got into programming for the sole purpose of one day making games. I studied Computer Science at high school and then university, all the while doing extra curricular games development to learn the ropes. After my first year at university studying Computer Science, I went to work as a Camp Counsellor at a summer camp in Massachusetts with the Camp America program.

In England everything is much more tightly packed than in America, so the wide open spaces, the forests, the mountains, long open stretches of road- they were all things that I'd never seen outside of video games and movies. It was my first major trip away from home, and the sense of adventure was intoxicating. The camp ground was set in the mountain forests by a lake, and the cabins that we lived in were grouped around one edge of the water. You couldn't pick a more idyllic spot, or one that looked more akin to a mountain village from any Tolkien-esque world. Having grown up as a kid playing Zelda and wishing that I could live in the tree village from 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves', I was in heaven.

After camp I took a car with some friends (including a girl from Ohio who was dating my friend at the time) and explored the East coast of America. We slept in a tent at the State park camp grounds dotted around the map, travelled from town to town exploring the local monuments, not knowing where the next destination would take us. For someone who grew up on adventure games, it was the closest I'd ever get to a real life adventure.

One night at a camp ground in Virginia, we got a warning from the park warden that a storm was on it's way and that we ought to seriously consider staying in a hotel that night. To the English, a storm means a bit of light rain and an inconvenient wind so we dismissed the warning at first. What actually came was a force of nature the likes of which we'd only seen on TV, forcing us to quickly throw the tent in the trunk of the car and drive away to find a motel as quickly as we could before things got seriously dangerous. Torrential rain pounded the roads and forests around us, and winds ripped up trees and threw them across fields. In addition to the storm it was getting late, and by the time we'd found a town of any kind it was pitch black. The darkness combined with the poor visibility caused by the storm meant that we couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of the car.

The town we drove into was small and made up of old battered wooden buildings. The first hotel we tried was a poorly maintained and musty run-down place. Inside entryway that acted as the reception there was a bible on the front desk, and crosses up on all the walls alongside framed quotes from various religious passages. Behind the desk sat the creepiest old man imaginable, who unbelievably made the stereotypical comments that you'd expect about 'how far we are away from home', and not getting many visitors 'round these parts. By this point we were already on edge and this whole town was straight out of a horror movie, so we quickly hurried back to the car and sped off, carrying on along the only road through town as fast as we could. The road ahead split into a fork, but due to the dark and the rain we wouldn't realise this until the very last second; there was a scream of profanities as we slammed the breaks on, and the car skidded to a halt just a few feet away from the grass verge in the middle of the fork. We sat there silent, the only sound being the thunderstorm battering the roof of the car. Directly ahead in the middle of the fork, illuminated by our headlights through the dark and the rain, was a fifteen foot statue of an angel looming over us with an expressionless face and its arms held wide. It was the single largest statue of an angel I have ever seen, and the image of it is still emblazoned in my memory. Everyone in the car screamed unprintable words, we slammed on the gas and swerved down one of the forks and didn't stop till we hit a free-way with well-lit roadside motels.

11th April 2012: Leveraging Monetization* (and other nonsense)

There's a word that sends shivers down my spine. Monetization. Not because of the principle- for many of us game development is also our only source of income and we need to eat, which means we all need some form of monetization in our lives. No, I dislike the word because of the kind of people that use it.

Easyjet is one of many budget airlines in the UK that advertise things such as 'Amsterdam for only 50p!!!!'. Cool. You click on the bit that says 'yes please', and go to the next screen. Here they tell you that they need to add on airport tax. And fuel tax. And BWC tax**. Luggage allowance. What's that, your luggage is larger than a grapefruit? Add an extra baggage charge. Why not pay extra for priority boarding? We've overbooked your flight, so it's the only way you can guarantee you won't be duct-taped to the wing for the duration of the journey. The final checkout is closer to £80. Now that is still a good price- it's certainly cheaper than travelling to a town 3 miles away with Satan's personal rail-road company 'East Midland Trains'. But they said that it costs 50p, KNOWING DAMN WELL THAT IT DOESN'T.

For me, THAT is what monetization insinuates. It is a buzzword used by corporate money-grabbing types, like 'leveraging', 'synergy', and 'mortgage backed securities'.

In-app purchases or DownLoadable Content can be wonderful things, providing new or optional experiences for a small fee. The players get something fun, and over time the developer earns that much needed extra £79.50. Many devs use these frameworks legitimately in the spirit that they were intended***. It needs pointing out that I fully support the proper use of these frameworks- but then people that use them properly don't use the word 'monetization'.

The big companies that lock EXISTING content on the game that you just bought and then force you to pay them AGAIN in order to unlock it? They use the 'M' word. There are first-person shooters that stone-cold charge you to unlock different skins for your weapons. You pay them in order to color your gun in a shade of red. CoD: World at War featured a fun extra zombie mode for free- CoD: Black Ops released the same mode two years later as a $15 add-on. (Cracked did a great article on this kind of abuse: http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-10-most-insulting-things-video-games-charged-money-for/).

Perhaps a dev might release a free version of a game, with the option to pay for further episodes. That's a great idea, it gives the player control over how much they spend and how much they play. That's great.

But then there are armies of soulless development houses abusing that idea, by marketing their game as free- free that is, until the first boss who can't be beaten unless you pay for an certain weapon using DLC. Fine, it's only small change. Then the same happens on the next boss. And the next. You can technically level-up yourself, but it would take an unreasonable 5-6 hours of grinding.... or you can just pay them for an item that does it instantly. Before you know it, you've paid the same as a full-price title and only got a few hours gameplay in return. That isn't the same as legitimately making additional chapters DLC as advertised up-front. But you didn't need to buy the DLC they shout! It's optional! No, it isn't. Technically possible to proceed without it does not equal reasonably possible.

This practice is dishonest and manipulative. This is what the word 'monetization' conjures up in my head. There's another word for it- lying. I have a third word for it, but nobody what's to hear it.

It's personally galling with my own game 'Fall of Angels'. For half the price of a frappuccino, it provides 10-15 hours of gameplay, which is fair. But in the app store, it's sandwiched between mass produced games by big publishers that all say FREE next to them. Sure, it costs you twice as much as Fall just to get an hour into the game, but by then it's too late- any game with a small genuine price tag already looks costly next to the dishonest 'FREE' labels. Yes, I could do the same and lie to my players about the real cost of playing, but I don't want to. And I shouldn't have to.

There are plenty of people- mostly indie devs of course- that use these frameworks in a positive, honest way. Please understand that I'm not lumping them in with the money-grabbers. To them, I salute you. To the money-grabbers that abuse the system in order to cheat their players out of cash- congratulations, you've soiled the word monetization and you're taking the East Midlands train directly to hell.


* It pleases me to find that my spell checker doesn't consider 'leveraging' to be a real word. Neither do I my friend. Neither do I.

** BWC tax is a British tax that stands for 'Because we can'. It's put on things arbitrarily when a minister needs a new Mercedes.

*** Let's give the likes of Microsoft and Apple the benefit of the doubt and assume that they had good intentions when they unleashed these frameworks on unsuspecting gamers.

31st March 2012: Where to work...

There are a number of troublesome issues that face independent developers, some of which you don't see coming until they are upon you. One of them is scorn from the various individuals that you don't particularly care for, but are forced to interact with regardless. “When are you getting a proper job?” is a question that always makes my inner voice howl in impotent rage, and often comes from the mid-life crisis uncle with his new earring and clothes only suitable for people in their late teens. Another is the belief held by others that working for yourself=flexible hours=you're free all day to run errands for them. Newsflash- I work harder and longer hours than your entire family combined, so fetch your own damned groceries.

Another interesting problem is deciding on a place of work.

There are some things that I don't miss about working in an office. That one guy who clicks his pen while he thinks. The guy who chews with his mouth open at his desk. Mr. Social that sits across from you but still asks you questions via email. That crazy witch that needs the AC on 40°C and complains about harassment if you tell her to leave the dial alone before you break her legs. But some things I do miss, such as having people to talk to, free food in the fridge with nothing but a name label to protect them, and the opportunity to talk to the members of the fairer sex that are not related to me. Now I'm not a womaniser by any means, oh no. It still takes me 3 months to pluck up the courage to send a girl a note saying 'do u lik me, plz circle yes no maybe '. However when your sole interaction with women is through the internet, problems and misconceptions will inevitably arise, so workplace friendships are nice and healthy.

Anyway, in lieu of an office where does one work when you're an indie developer? The spare bedroom is great, but a little unambitious. Working in the spare bedroom (or mum's basement) fulfils the criteria of an uncomfortable stereotype, which though largely accurate is still one that I'd rather pretend is not true. The spare bedroom also shares a wall with our delightful neighbours, and as I type this the mother is screaming at her kids for stealing her cigarettes to sell at school and their pit bull terriers are angrily barking like they're about to maul some more members of the neighbourhood. So let's take venture outside.

The park would be nice, but my Dell laptop suspiciously stopped running on battery power 3 minutes after my warranty expired. The garden shed has a power outlet though, and I remember many an hour spent programming in there. I can look out of the window at nature, and it smells nicely of wood. Mmmmm. A few hours in, and the drawbacks of this rustic location are becoming clear- namely in the form of a thousand pigeons that infest our garden, cooing over and over and over. Ooo ooooooooo OO. SHUT UP. I try throwing rocks at them to scare them away, but unfortunately I throw like a little girl, so I give up.

I tried coffee shops for a time. There's something very pretentious and hipster-ish about using your laptop in a coffee shop, but I'm not using iTunes or twitter so I think I'm in the clear. The coffee is good too, but just don't spill a coconut latte on your laptop; the liquid doesn't do it any favours and the sugar in the drink then coats the innards causing permanent damage and an uncomfortable discussion with your manager at IBM. Probably. The cost soon racks up too. Those fancy coffees don't come cheap, and there are only so many hours that you can stay there nursing the same drink before the barrista takes issue with you hogging the comfy sofa seats.

I also tried a pub. Some chains have free wi-fi! Have you ever tried working on a laptop in a pub at 9am? I was surprised to find that most people that are in a pub that early on a weekday are not always the most supportive of one's endeavours. In addition to my societal worth and sexual orientation, they also have very vocal opinions regarding the latest sporting events, though these opinions usually revolve around some sportsman or other being run over by a bus for failing to perform to the expectations of my new inebriated chums. On the plus side, Pina Coladas- the working man's drink of choice- are readily available in a pub, however I can't help but feel that this is exactly how the other people in the room started out.

I tried the library, the train station, and even a supermarket car-park, all with unsatisfactory results.

So I finally settled on the kitchen. It's slightly more ambitious- according to my own unspecified criteria- than just working in a bedroom, and it's relatively sheltered from the horrid family next door. I work at our kitchen table all day now, and snack on all the food, and then go running in a guilt-fuelled attempt to stave off the increased calorie intake. Hey, I need to keep in shape- the chances of a real-life woman knocking on our door to sell me something are slim, so if it does ever happen I'll need to make it count.

25th March 2012: Creatures of Deviation

When developing maps/levels for games, the thought that I always bear in the back of my mind is 'has this been done before?'. I think that it's perhaps the second most important thing in games design (number one being actually making the level fun). Now as the saying goes, there's nothing new under the sun- I'm not suggesting that games designers should aim to redefine the games industry with every level. Just at least enough to have the player go "ooh, cool". Sometimes it's an entirely different style of play, sometimes it's a one-time gimmick, sometimes it's just a different kind of scenery to the map before it. Whatever it is, however big or small, I believe the player should constantly be seeing or doing something interesting and engaging, something new. No part of a game should be filler.

We're all creatures of habit to varying degrees. An established franchise often sells well regardless of the content, in part because consumers know roughly what to expect. How often do we see this abused though- soulless movie tie ins, conveyor belt sequels, and genre saturation. It's made even more sad when games like Ico become cult classics rather than the wide-reaching commercial successes that they deserve to be.

I think this is where indie developers come in, and why sites like indieDB excite me so much. The games industry as a whole- like Hollywood before it- could do with an injection of originality, and indie developers are becoming more and more the source of that originality. We often don't have the resources or manpower to create movie-quality special effects in our games, and we don't have big name licenses to trade on. This may have it's downsides (EA don't have to choose between funding adverts or buying food), but what it does do is free us to try new ideas and our independence allows us to take risks. The temptation to create a glorified graphics demo and call it a game is significantly less for us, because we need to appeal to gamers from a different angle i.e. we need to make games that are fun.

My sincere hope is that the future of the games industry continues to make it easier and easier for indie games to reach their audience through distribution methods such as Desura and the mobile app stores. That could only mean good things for people who enjoy games.

17th March 2012: How I got Here

I started playing video games when I was a kid. I would join the crowds watching each other playing Super Mario Bros. at the arcade, and I was mesmerised. I played myself a few times, and managed to fall down the first hole on 1-1 every. single. time. Don't ask me how, I could barely dress myself at that age let alone work out the intricate complexities of the SMB control system. Not too long after that, I got my first taste of making my own games- my friends and I would play Zelda on our back gardens. One of us (Link) would wait inside while the others hid junk around the garden- a glove, a piece of wood that represented a raft, a little mirror... we'd create our own puzzles utilizing the hidden items, and then 'Link' would come outside and solve the puzzles. The puzzle creators would jump out every now and then and pretend to be monsters, and 'Link' would fight them. We were the cool kids, and everybody knew it.

Fast-forward some years to when I was 18, and I had an overnight stopover in a Ohio bus station followed by a 14 hour bus ride. I didn't fancy sleeping in the bus station and then waking up minus my shoes and/or kidneys, so I bought a notepad and a pencil and spent the time designing my own RPG. Six months prior to that I had become obsessed with Final Fantasy VIII (your mileage may vary on it, but it floated my boat). After finishing it I thought “hey I bet I could program something like that”, so I did. I made a brief demo of the RPG that I'd designed in the bus station, and I was pretty proud of it. Then university got in the way, and work after that. Before I knew it nature had took it's course and I was climbing the corporate ladder, hurrah!

I always wanted to finish that game. For 10 years I nursed that idea, adding elements to it, altering characters, dreaming up story sequences in my head. But I always knew the idea of making my own game was unrealistic- you can't just make a game without having your own developer studio. Plus I'd have to quit my job to do it, and that's a huge financial risk. Chances are it wouldn't work out anyway.

Eventually I took a look at myself one day, and decided that enough was enough. I couldn't live in the rat race without knowing if I could have made it as a games developer. I had so many ideas, so much that I wanted to do, and I would always always always wonder whether or not it would have worked out. So I quit. I left my house in London and my consultancy job, put away the suits, hung up my ties, and went back to live in my Mum's spare bedroom to beaver away developing my game. I quit my high flying big city job to live the dream at my mums house.

Did it work out? No idea yet. At first I made some iPhone apps to get a bit of revenue before starting my game. After that I settled down to what was simultaneously the most fun and the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Now after a year of ridiculous hours and no social life whatsoever, 'Fall of Angels' is finally out.

The rest of the story hasn't happened yet.