PAX Australia Is A Pretty Awesome Time

Hey internet it’s been some time, rest assured I am still working on Readapt despite being busy with other things. One of those things was a spending 3 days at PAX Australia. Being a local with a passion for games (and working on my own) meant that PAX was a must go event.

I had attended Australia’s first PAX last year for a day and had a good time, this year’s PAX was bigger and better in every way. If you ask anyone about their PAX experience they will undoubtedly mention the people that run and attend it. There are few other times and places where you can walk up to anyone and talk about a hobby that you share. You don’t even have to know anything else about them, you can just talk and enjoy games together. This is a pretty rare thing to experience and it was really nice to be a part of, especially considering that the internet recently has not been a nice place for all gamers.

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Me playing the versus mode of Puzzle Bobble (also known as Bust-a-Move) on the SNES with a friendly stranger. Note that the giant NES controller in the background is actually functional.

PAX is unlike any other event because it is literally run by gamers for gamers and it would not be possible without the 600 strong Enforcers who volunteer to make the show possible. There are interesting panels run by journalists, developers, pro-gamers and even academics. It was encouraging to see the Australian independent game scene in force in the expo hall and I had a ball playing them and chatting to the developers.

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I tried playing some Tempest 3000 on a Nuon, I gave up after a few minutes (pretty much at this exact moment), it doesn’t really play well blown up on a giant screen. At least I can now say I have gamed on a DVD player.

There are even dedicated areas where you can play current games in the console freeplay area and old games in the retro section. PC gamers were not left wanting either with a huge PC free play area and a secure site where you could BYO PC rig to setup and play.

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Console Freeplay Area
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PC Freeplay Area

PAX also has a large zone dedicated to tabletop gaming from Magic the Gathering to traditional board games. There are tables upon tables of friendly people who are happy to sit down and teach you how to play a game that you have never played. It was also awesome to see so many people dress up as their favorite character from games, TV or even anime.

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Me mulling over my turn in a ludicrously sized version of Cogz which is worth $2K, you could walk over the pieces which the creator says can support the weight of a car. The game was super fun (I sucked at it though) and it’s even MENSA approved to boot.
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There was a lot of really detailed cosplay at PAX but this one takes the cake for me since I am a big Mass Effect fan. Wrex, Tali and Garrus look especially rad here.
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Some good guesses for the final round of the Omegathon but no one was expecting the majesty of Combat on the Atari 2600. No one.

I hope that you can tell that whole event was extremely positive and everyone there was excited and wanted to be there. If you have even have a remote interest in games I would highly recommend going next year, it’s worth it alone just to soak up the atmosphere.

That’s it for me now, I’m going to be putting on the finishing touches on the next build of Readapt so keep an eye out for that.

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Thoughts On A Game Dev Talk, Protodive And A Comic Legend

Phaw, that was a week already? Man that went fast. Contrary to what I said in one of earlier blog posts I couldn’t resist adding a bit more content to my game. I know, I know, it means that I have to push the public test release a little bit back but on the upside it will also give a little more for players to test and give feedback on.

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I added projectile trails during the week (not to mention other top secret things) which gives a better indication of direction and speed. It took a lot longer than I expected, as drawing dotted lines ( or any lines for that matter) in Unity 3D is not easy and required using a store asset that I bought called Vectrosity.

Aside from my usual business, I managed to attend a “post-mortem” game development talk about Puzzle Retreat which was held in the city. The game is a puzzle game for smart phones, created by Voxel Agents, a local indie developer who are most well known for their Train Conductor games. They shared some interesting insight to what worked and what didn’t, with the added benefit of hindsight. The game is free, revolves around simple rules and includes 60 puzzles, which meant a low barrier to entry and as a result, over 3 million downloads. They also showed off some of the development tools that they built from scratch which enabled them to create new puzzles quickly. One tool even showed order of moves for a solution and report number of possible solutions as the puzzle was being made.

Unfortunately their free to play model, which sold additional puzzle packs for a few dollars, was not attractive enough for most people to convert into paying customers. Another point was made about metric data and how too much non-specific data collecting can be a nightmare to make any sense of. Big budget developers can devote entire an entire division to player metric data collecting and analysis but the sheer scale of that endeavor is too much for most indie developers. Instead player data collected should be on focused and targeted queries.

While the talk wasn’t specific to my efforts (as my game is intended for a different audience and platform) but it was interesting to listen and learn from another game developer. Aside from that I did more legal and business-y research and finalised some paperwork. I have decided that while my game will be firmly attached to my name, it is sensible to setup a small business for tax purposes. I decided to call it “protodive” which means, quite literally: first dive. To me it describes the moment when you jump into something for the first time and the excitement that comes with that. Such a description applies to my current line of “work”, when I play a game, read a book, listen to a piece of music or experience anything new. I am a big fan of the open world RPGs, particularly those crafted by Bethesda Studios and I’m always super giddy on the first play through.GenieIn other news, it was sad to hear of the passing of Robin Williams, I am a big fan of his work (Good Will Hunting is still one of my favourite movies) and I love the hell outta his Genie in Aladdin. I can only offer my condolences to his friends and family. On a related note if you are or know someone who is depressed please seek professional help or talk to someone about it. Depression sucks but always know that others struggle with it and cope with it, more often than not with the help and support of others. 

On happier news, the Should I play This Game Podcast will be returning from our 3 week hiatus. We will be recording a new episode this Sunday night and a new episode will be out soon, which you can find on the website (link on the right) and subscribe to on iTunes. I’ll probably update the blog with a small post when it’s live. Until then I’ll be busy getting my game up to testing standards (I still intend to put it up on IndieDB and the TIGSource forums), you can follow me on Twitter @thephampire and watch this space for future updates.

Recharge and Readapt

I decided to take a small break last weekend from working on my game. Usually my week mostly consists of sitting in front of my computer working (including weekends). I try to be social at least once a week and stay active (I run when the weather and motivation permits). I also have other hobbies aside from video games, I’m an avid reader and owner of a kindle (I’m reading The Witcher books at the moment) and I enjoy noodling around on the piano.

While working on my first game is exciting and interesting, I try and mix it up when I decide to take small breaks during the day. Sometimes it’s not enough and I had a strong desire to shake up my routine. So I went skiing. It was fun.

Over a period of 3 days I didn’t obsess over my game. Before I went on the trip it would always occupy a constant part of my mind, when I was doing chores around the house, showering, running or even trying to sleep. It has it’s upsides, sometimes a new idea or solution comes to me and I cement it in my mind before jotting it down in my notebook. But as you can understand it can be draining, so a short trip over the weekend with friends was just what I need to recharge. I think the only time when I thought about my game was when someone asked what I had been up to.

We drove (a four hour trip each way) in two cars as a group of six to Mount Hotham and stayed two nights. It was my second time, so the experience is still novel and even for the experienced in our group it was an exciting and good time.

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IMG_0174 Top Image: A view from our accommodation. Bottom Image: At the top of the summit. 

I stuck mostly to the beginner courses but I did dip my toes in an intermediate course a few times as my technique slowly improved. I found that as you get more confident and build more skills you can enjoy skiing a lot more. Anyone interested and uninitiated in skiing should limit their first time to a day or two with a more experienced friend or family member. Going as a group has it’s advantages, the more the merrier and it can keep costs reasonable. Discounts on lift tickets and on gear hire are usually available so it pays to do your research in advance.

For anyone working on a game, my advice is look after yourself both physically and mentally. Game development takes time and effort but it shouldn’t impact too negatively on your life. Take regular breaks, hang out with friends and consider taking a break where you can really forgot about your work.

After the trip my sleep schedule normalised. No longer am I staying up past 3 AM or waking up after midday. I feel less anxious, more motivated and hopeful about my game. For the longest time I had struggled to find a name for my game. I have decided to call it “Readapt”, a fitting, if rather straightforward name. On reflection it describes not only what players have to do constantly in-game but what I’ve done to get to where I am now. I think that’s a topic for another blog post though.

Recently I have been working on a main menu screen (among other things) and making it functional and scale to different resolutions, below is what it looks like now.

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It’s pretty basic and needs some work, but it’ll do for now. Oh and I’ll keep to a weekly blogging schedule, I find it helps me process (and hopefully it’s not dead boring to read). So stay tuned and more importantly, be well.