This past weekend Anthony went to SIEGE and I playtested the yet unnamed hexagon game.
We played for a couple hours before I had to leave.
This is what I think so far:
- The game balance is good. Your advantage can easily be taken away from you.
- The game can easily take a long time to play to completion. So much so that I am thinking of going to Anthony's this weekend, starting a game bright and early and not leaving until one of us wins.
- Even though the game can take a long time to play, no one that has sat down to play it has lost interest, even those compatriots that do not usually care to play games.
- The game has a good feedback loop and people get engaged in it really easily.
- The unknown unknowns tend to make players be very cautious. As does the number of items to keep track of.
- Counting things that are not there is a lot harder than you would think.
- It is very easy to strike earlier than you should. People can easily force your hand.
So far we like the current ruleset, but more testing is needed. After a few more weeks of testing, I will see about a how to play video, maybe sooner if we come up with a good name.
So Saturday I was playtesting a new strategy game with a friend of mine.
It was a good game. Stupid moves were made (I fell into my own trap). The advantage went back and forth constantly. We both kept gaining and losing control of the board. I managed to take a path that my friend was making away from him and use it to my advantage. My pal got himself trapped behind enemy lines but that also managed to cut me off from the path I was going to take. In fact, I do not think there was a single point in that game where I did not feel threatened. It was a good game.
Eventually, I conceded, just so I could go to bed. It was five in the morning at that point, after all.
It was his first time playing, and my third, but he picked it up rather quickly.
But what really let me know that we are on to something special is that I have never seen this particular friend of mine drink so slowly. If we are hanging out, usually by that point we are pretty much gone, but not this night. We barely even talked, we were too busy playing.
I cannot wait to test some more.
Ant likes to send me articles. Lots of articles.
Being the good friend I am, I read them all. Maybe not in a timely manner, but I read them.
Recently, he sent me an article advising people to refrain from self-funding. The author says that from their personal experience that self-funding is a bad idea, though explicit reasons are not given for this, and that outside funding is the way to go for everyone.
Now, I used to work at Cardlytics, and one day, I asked Scott Grimes, who used to work in venture capital, what a person needed to get investment from a VC firm. These are the things he told me:
1. Your idea must be attractive to a large market of people.
2. Your idea needs to something that can grow really quickly. Most investors are looking to exit from the investment in 5 - 7 years and are looking for a return of 7 to 1. That is, seven dollars for even one dollar invested.
3. A proven track record. This means that you need to be able to show that you can grow a business. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have to have started a business before, but that when put in charge of a business, you led it into a period of expansion. It also means that you need to be able to prove that you can provide a product or service in a timely manner. You may have great ideas, but if you can't produce, then investors aren't going to be interested.
4. Customer testimonials. You need to be able to provide proof that your idea or your business can meet the needs of your audience. This can be either for your current idea or from business you have grown in the past. Investors want to know about you as a businessperson.
5. A good business plan. Now what constitutes a good business plan? Being specific about who your audience is, what your product or service is, what your needs are, where you need improvement and your realistic expectations of growth along with your rationalization for that expectation.
Even after providing all of that, VC firms only invest in 10 - 15 companies a year. Angel investors even less. The fact is that outside investment is hard to get, and chasing it can pull you away from your business, so don't let the lack of outside funding deter you from pursuing your business. Most companies are self-funded and by doing so and succeeding even modestly, you will be able to provide those things that investors are looking for.
That was what was yelled after Pheidippides made the run from Marathon to Athens. Nike! Victory!
That was what I felt after a coding marathon with Anthony this past weekend. A lot got done. A whole lot.
I had to start this post over. I started pontificating and that is not the right thing to do here.
I just want to congratulate and thank Anthony on all of his hard work and express how in awe I am of his drive and talent. I am lucky to know you, buddy, not only as a business partner, but as a friend.
If anyone reading this thing does start their own studio, remember, the asset you need most of is not cash, but motivation and discipline (and a quiet place to work helps to).
Thank you again, Ant.
So, SOPA is getting a lot of press online as of late, and today, and Ant asked me my opinion of it.
This may come as a shock, but I am not a fan.
First of all, because piracy is going to happen. It is a cost of doing business. Someone is going to take your stuff and you have to factor that into your business model. Personally, I do not think that others should bear the burden of an industry being unable to adapt.
But most of all, I believe in the rule of law. Laws such as SOPA strip people of the ability to redress grievances in our courts and allows people to punish others without any burden of proof. The right to trial is a a hallmark of a civilized society. Without the courts we are merely thugs.
And that is what the entertainment industry is asking for our government to do, become thugs on their behalf. This saddens me, because I like to be entertained, but what saddens me more are the people who are supporting this silly, asinine and wasteful bill that will prove to be ineffective at curbing internet piracy.
For our friends in the entertainment industry, please find better ways to deal with piracy than turning the government against your customers.
So, I am sure one of you, (either of you) read Ant's predictions for 2012. He is ever the optimist and I love him for that. I, on the other hand, often expect the worst. Not that I don't believe in us, but I am generally thinking about the things that can go wrong. So, here are my predictions:
1. Ant and I will get into an argument, however, after the shouting and the anger we will work things out and keep this thing going. It's almost inevitable, as there is a lot of passion in what we are doing.
2. Something will work out better than expected and worse than we hoped.
3. The world will end (here's hoping).
Still, I do believe in what we got going here. I think that our disparate personalities bring strength to the company. Both of us bring things to the table that the other one needs and that is why we are going to succeed. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but we will, because we want this and are willing to put in the hard work to make it happen.
Happy New Year.
Since I am giant geek (surprise!) I read lots of articles on random subjects. Today, I read one about time.
One thing the in the article that has gotten the gears in my head turning was that the brain recognizes events that happen 80 milliseconds in the past as the present. Or, rather, it takes that long for the brain to reconcile all the information that is being presented to it. I don't know if this is true or not, but if any reader out there can confirm this, either one of you, I would be appreciative.
Supposing this is true, how can that information be used for games? In what ways can we play with our perception of time and of the present in order to make more interesting and engaging games? Since games will continue to become faster, surely we will be able to take advantage of the tech in ways that may not be possible now.
The most obvious to me is that for those periods in games where we want to confuse the player is to give them more information than can be assembled by the brain in those 80 milliseconds. Or, perhaps by presenting players with new information while their brain is still piecing together information from 40 milliseconds prior. Not only could this potentially confuse players, but it can also increase anxiety and heighten attentiveness in the player. This would make the slow periods even more relaxing and cathartic, as the mind would be saying to itself "I can finally relax!"
It's kind of like playing Left for Dead. I tell people the fun in Left for Dead is not in playing the game, but in having played the game. While I am playing, I am just saying "Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap." the entire time, but when I make it to a safe house, I feel as rush as my body stops tensing for the brief moments until the madness starts again.
Of course, this is only one idea, but I believe that as technology continues to evolve, we will be better able to take advantage of the ways in which our brains perceive the world to make games that are more engaging and more fun than what we have even now. Don't get me wrong, I am still an avid retro-gamer, but I am still excited by what we will be able to do as time passes.
Since Barbara is my friend, despite the fact that we have a business relationship between us, I talk about my emotional state with her regarding our project.
Just to be clear, this is a bad idea for anyone else. I can do this with Barbara. You should make sure that the person you are working with is your own Barbara before you even think about sharing your feelings with them when working on a business project with them.
So, I shared with her today my immediate reaction to her ideas concerning our project, and how it is was funny to me considering the reaction I put forward during the discussion was not my emotional reaction (Ant is a lot more outwardly level-headed than I am, it is hard for me to know what he is feeling on the inside unless he tells me).
She laughed and then something that surprised me. She said that she had no idea that I was that emotionally attached to this project, and that for her, though the project was spawned by her intellectual property, it did not carry for her the same way that telling a story did.
I was taken aback when I heard this, because for me, all games are storytelling in one way or another. It's one of the reasons why I love them (it's also one of the reasons why Ant and I are making games and are doing pretty well for a new company). Though the games we have made for Mercury Retrograde, Suabh (Sweep) and Fortunes, do not to tell a story the way that they do in the fantastic books that they appear in, they allow the player to experience the world that Barbara created in a way that they could not in any other medium. Instead of hearing about or being told about the world, for a moment, they are in the world. It's one of the reasons that tabletop role-playing may fall in and out of favor, but will never completely go away (until we make a holodeck), because it allows people to live and do things that they would otherwise be unable to.
So, yes, I am emotionally attached to this thing.
But see, though you should be attached to your projects, you can't let that attachment consume you. Games are not things that are made in isolation. The best authors have great editors. Even the most brilliant director in films requires the technical and creative expertise of the people around them. Good directors provide a guiding hand to bring consistency and clarity of vision to a collaborative effort. Bad directors bring you the live-action Transformers movies.
So, yes, care about what you are doing, but don't care so much that you become blind to the brilliance and intelligence of the people working with you, because if they are not brilliant or intelligent, why are you working with them?
Right now, in between trying to do new things with Marco Polo, making plans for other projects, marketing ourselves and meeting random people, we are working on a new project with the lovely people at Mercury Retrograde.
It's a project that I have been thinking about for a very long time and is dear to me not just because of the level of effort Ant, Barbara, and myself have put into it, but also because I really want to do a good job. I don't want anyone to feel let down at the end of this or for anyone to feel like they have settled for something. That's not okay to me. Not for this.
So, to that end, I have been drawing up interfaces for this thing in my head for quite some time. I've got sketches in random places. I argued with myself and drew figures with my finger in the air, mumbling to myself all the while. So when I finally made wireframe mockup of the interface for people to see and approve, I was very proud of myself, because I felt like I had done a great job, and that is great feeling.
And then I received a criticism.
Not even a big one. Not even a criticism. Just a question. And for a moment, I was angry. I was upset. I do not take criticism well, at least not immediately. I need a few moments to get over myself. Then we had a good discussion about it, and now we are working on various solutions.
That's the thing. I like to think I know best, but I don't. I am not a genius. I am not a visionary. I am just a man who has always wanted to make games. The funny thing is, hardly anyone else is a genius or a visionary either. The assumption that the designer knows what is best is so common that there is even a term related to it, "pink lightsabers", giving the people who do the approving something obvious to correct so that they can feel like they contributed and the designer can get on with their work.
I actually think that pink lightsabers is the wrong approach. I think that because it is an approach born of arrogance, of hubris and of thinking that only the designer has the right ideas. They don't. No one does. And the thing is, when you receive a criticism or concern, unless it involves personal attacks or comes from someone with a vendetta against you, it is a legitimate thing and should be examined.
Sure, there are lots of stories of business people ruining great games due to the forcing or rushing of ideas or features despite the concerns of the developers, but many of those ideas weren't inherently bad. They may have been born out of a fad or out of the head of some out of touch executive, but it is not the idea, it is the execution that matters.
If you really think that what was brought up is not a good thing, don't respond immediately. Take the time to sit back, think about the reasons why you did or did not include something and explain it, but also, if it is feasible, do a mockup of the idea or bring forward examples that people can see of the same idea done by someone else (it's out there, trust me) and give it a try. Bring in a third party and work out possible compromise solutions.
Remember, though everyone involved in a project may have different goals, everyone is doing it though the same mechanism, the game, or the project, or whatever. The developers may have a desire to make the best game they can, while the business people want to make lots of money and the marketers may want to make the most avant garde and interesting campaign they can, but they are all doing it through the same core mechanism, and all of their needs are legitimate and should be met by that mechanism.
If you are the person giving the criticism, remember, you don't have special insight, either. I bet you a dollar you are not the visionary you think you are. If the developers or designers can give you a reason why X shouldn't happen, and you don't have a logical, cogent and coherent reason to refute that argument, back off. Also, because someone else did it or because so and so wants it is not a cogent refutation. If you can't relate your argument back to why it would make for a better experience, then back off.
None of this is meant to say that you shouldn't fight about a change that you don't think is or is not a good thing. If you really believe that X is going to ruin things, then by all means, fight for it. A shouting match isn't necessarily a bad thing. It helps people work out frustrations and can clear the air so that people can come back to things with a clear head once they have gotten over their passion. There have even been studies showing that groups that have one person who always disagrees or has has to be convinced get better results. But after the shouting is done, the discussion has to come back to reasonable and logical thinking. Does this make for a better story, or lead to a better experience, or make a more beautiful presentation, and is it worth the effort, or should we save it for the next iteration or project?
Remember, individual genius is rare, but through teamwork, true collaboration, and a good shouting match, beautiful things are created.