Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Porcelain Heart

I ... lost all I had - that April day,
I ... turned to my friends - nothing to say,
I ... wrote down a name - and read it twice,
I ... wallowed in shame...

Akerfeldt, Opeth

Losing all you had ... wallow in shame ... no matter the reason ... no matter the cause ... no excuses ... wallow in shame ... 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shadow Blade: Reload release date set!

The enhanced PC version of Shadow Blade will be ready for Steam Early Access on July 21st, here is the launch trailer:

The team has done a great job in preparing this version of Shadow Blade for the PC platform. Some changes and additions include more challenging levels, various difficulties, new abilities including the all famous Shuriken!, a level editor and multiplayer race mode.

This is a very exciting time and despite the many ups and downs in our development process, we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Shadow Blade Lessons

Every project contains an ocean of hidden knowledge that can be learned and tons of valuable experience. One of the ways to strengthen this learning process is to reflect on the whole development process of the project a few months after the end of the project. Thinking about what went right during the project and what went wrong, all in the hopes of doing better on the next project, being more efficient and producing better quality products.

Here is a postmortem article I wrote today for Gamasutra about Shadow Blade:

Shadow Blade Postmortem

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Three Commandments for The Fall of Video Games (As we know them)

Free to Play has been on my mind for a while now, thinking about how it works, what people expect from it and its dynamics overall. It has never totally clicked for me and I still have a lot of open questions regarding free to play games and their corresponding economics and their effect on the game industry. I certainly don't just hate it and I do believe that there are certain games that are perfect for this over popular monetization model, but that is just it, a certain group of games!

The whole concept can be studied from various different angles, I want to touch upon one of my concerns in this post. I always thought that in any business, not just in games, the creator does his best creation and knows that the users of the service or product will use it and hopefully enjoy the experience and be happy about the product or service, once they are happy with it, then they will pay and you make your money from the happy customers of your business. Very basic, very classic and just what the human race has been used to for centuries, want to make more money? Make the people who love your product or service happier so that they are willing to pay more! What does this have to do with free to play? Well I'm afraid a lot, here it goes:

Only a portion, in fact to be more exact a very small portion, of the players pay in f2p games. There has been a recent report by Swrve lately about f2p monetization that you can get from here. In this report they conclude that 50% of the f2p games revenue comes from only 0.15% of the gamers! Another shocking number is that 9% of this revenue comes from purchases over 50 USD! Well these rare species that spend so much in f2p games have been known for a while now as whales. In other words, we can easily say that people do not pay for f2p games, but there is a tiny portion of them out there who have kept the f2p economics alive. Alive and kicking and generating tons of revenue for the hit titles. Now what is the problem with that? Let the developers suck the cash out of the whales you say? Well lets proceed then:

Developers, especially those who liked to defend the f2p model said that the proper way to charge people for in-app purchases is for cosmetic features, things that do not have any effects on gameplay, in order to provide a fair situation for all players and avoid "pay to win". Well this was a dream that vaporized as fast as a drop of clean water evaporates in the middle of the Sahara! Soon publishers realized that the best things that sell in games are stuff that give you super advantages so that you can clear a level or an obstacle in the game. This is the trend that all major titles such as even Angry Birds have followed. It was not good for gamers to clear these games too quick, since they would not have an option to pay for in-app items, so these games need to block your progress and by the way enable you to proceed a bit if you pay.

Blocking the progress can be done by the following methods

    1. Make the game extremely hard and provide powerups that can be purchased (hard levels, requiring certain amount of starts to proceed, ...)
    2. Make the player need to repeat levels for different excuses
    3. Rely on non skill-based game mechanics that rely on numbers and stats in order to have progress and provide options to buy stats or time, like Clash of Clans.
No wonder why the number of paying players is so extremely low. 

  1. What kind of a person would want to pay to buy super powers in game to clear the levels? This is directly contradictory with the basic nature of games which is all about challenges. Alas why play a game if you do not want to confront a challenge? Classically this is known as cheating for athletes and gamers. 
  2. Who would like to repeatedly do the same thing in games just because the designer wanted you to? The best way this is implemented in games is known as grinding and that is not a positive point among the gamers for a game to have, especially if you know that the designer has added it to increase the game play time.
  3. Who likes to rely on non skill-based mechanics? Non skill? Skill is hand in hand with challenge and the essence of a game.
The people who like to do the above are definitely not the traditional gamers, the people who like to play to get engaged in a challenge with themselves and their abilities or with their friends. But hey, who said such people are playing games these days, the total number of gamers that want to play games for games is maybe at most 40 million in the world. The close to 1 billion that play Angry Birds are then for sure a different target, thanks to the ubiquity of the mobile devices. Out of those new gamers that are in fact non-gamers, there are a tiny fraction that are interested in paying for whatever they can in the game so that they can have progress, the whales!

From the Swrve report, this is a serious suggestion for f2p game designers:
  • Have we identified these customers within our own business?
  • Are we investing appropriate time and resources on retaining this specific group of players?
  • Do we understand where they come from, and have we amended our acquisition strategy accordingly?
By "these customers"the report is clearly referring to the paying customers. 

I like to call the above rules : "The Three Commandments for The Fall of Video Games"!

What happens if we identify those customers, the whales, and then invest the appropriate time and resource in retaining that specific group of players, in other words, design our game so that that specific group are happy with us, the whales are happy with us, and do we know where they come from and amend our acquisition strategy so that we can target them and invite them to our lovely game! Maybe we should focus our acquisition strategy in the north pole and install large billboards there!

So this is the root of my paradox, who are we designing and creating for? The gamer or the whale? Mobile games have been made by people from the game industry with "Game Design" mind sets, maybe this is why we still can play some of the mobile games, seems like it won't last long since the more designers start to obey the above three rules and base their design on the loyal paying customers, the more those games will be strange for people looking for pure play experience and challenge and fun and the more they will appeal to hip wannabe douche bags who will pay more than 100 dollars just to be a bit on the higher parts of that other gamer list on their Facebook account and will share that with all their aunts and grandmas so that they get praised for how cool and adorable they are! If a creator is to pay attention to its customer and create for its customer so that they are happy and bring him wealth, then game designers better start and study these valuable assets and see what clicks with them and brings them joy. I am sure the final product will look nothing like the best games that we have all experience and have changed our lives to some extent and we have been craving for just another close experience for some time now.

Designers will follow those rules, they will make many whales happy and bring tears to their eyes and they will make a lot of cash in the way, all I hope for is that a few designers will remain to stick to what games are and make the digital experiences for the few game lovers that remain in the future!

EDIT: I just read this news: Square Enix president admits that company 'lost focus' and the part of it that I liked very much and brings hope is this:

"Matsuda seems to be suggesting that Square Enix will be changing how it approaches developing games for a global market, by focusing on making games that appeal to what it believes to be a "niche audience" and trusting that players who appreciate those games will seek them out, rather than attempting to make games that will appeal to a broad audience."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

King Slayer

I have served him for years... long long years ago ... I can feel the smell of the ocean breeze on the day he sat on the throne ... the day I swore ... the heat of the joy of men around him would burn the surface of the skins already burnt under the bright summer sun ... the sun witnessing the glory and brotherhood in the land ... the day brothers celebrated the rise of the selected one to lead and guide and navigate their battered ship towards safe and dry lands ... this was the day to lay down the daggers and live a life in peace ... the day to cherish safety ... when all is one and one is all. I was thrilled to be part of the elite to protect him for life ... the black cloaks ... living the moments to find an opportunity to leave the life to protect the throne ... the days that were too surreal to be part of this fragile experience.

The wind blew ... the waves collapsed and the storms punished the land that was embracing the dead state of no change ... the sun and moon raced the face of the frozen lands ... wars appeared like little sparks in a young morning fire ... lost were the men that stood as brothers and families ruined ... the heat of the always shining sun was turning cold by the shadows of the everlasting chaos ... I found my meaning in protecting the throne ... I was the right force in the flow of wrong ... feeling the weight of the looks when I did not turn my head ... the oath was my sole savior ... the thing that saves from the dark.

The rise of the rebels and never ending conflict from outside was something he was raised with ... the only deep meaning he had felt from the days he dreamed of living the life of adults ... what had secured the credibility of the throne for all seeking the pleasure of safety...this he had no issues with ... but the shattering blow was the decay from inside ... the things he would hear and see from the ones that had dedicated their souls to him a very short while ago ... I could read the reflexes in his face better than any wise man in his service ... a blessing for the ever present and the life witness... he stepped down from the holy ruling throne every time he was stabbed by a man of his land ... the enemies of the land he crushed ... the enemies within his land crushed him and every symbol of power attached to him ... I was unable to protect the throne from the invisible enemy.

The sun was high and the days were dark ... the grass burned and his heart froze ... never would this be the fair arenas that he was grown to fight in ... never was this explained to him along the stories he was grown with bringing to life the heroes that had cleared the high lands from the various evil invasions ... who was the evil now and why did the angels look so different? The birds of rationality flew away... the days of colorful hope did follow them ... anger fed the monsters of hate ... revenge turned to seeds of pessimism ... power was now the ultimate goal ... the subconscious goal to eliminate the chaos and bring back the fairy tale days of the earlier years ... pushing and forcing .... sitting and thinking on the angry chair ... the throne of hate ... did I know this man ... how fast is the wind of change ... who is right and who is wrong ... fear and the will to order!

The mirrors broken, he tried so much to see only too not understand how blind he was ... the smell of the blood of every brother was an appetizer to slay another ... who needed to rebel from the outside now? Couldn't even kill with his own hands while both hands were holding the crown ... a crown of negativity ... the cries of the angels were not enough to be distinguished from the river of blood... and I stood there ... a protector of the throne ... I was the shield of god serving the chosen one ... seeing the blood of the best men on my sword as the sacrifices for the chosen one ... the one to show the path and the one to bring the light ... never second guessing my meaning ... never second guessing my being.

I am his savior ... and I am his protector ... I am one with the grand presence of the chosen one ... I un-sheath my blade ... in a walk to the grand hall of justice ... the sound of the blade kissing the sheath for the last time begs for a little attention ... my heart has left this heavy armor already ... I can hear my footsteps now ... I am the protector and savior of the throne ... more eyes on me now ... who is right and who is wrong? ... all the men watching me from above ... this is the day ... can hear the sound of him breathing now ... are the last breaths louder ... is this why I hear my own breath too ... my fingers touch his beard for the first time ... pulling his royal throat back while the crown is still dancing above ... my blade is sharp enough to pierce through ... from the back of his majesty ... spraying red wine away from his regal belly ... is this it ... is this the end ... this is the end ... the end of a cycle ... never to be the end of it all ... the beginning of a new story ... the story of another King Slayer .. the story to be lived an played by the next ... just to relive a fiction turned real ... to be a story again ... to be heard and believed and lived ... this is not the end .. this is what it is ... this is me feeling the arrows passing through my body ... time will stop now ... I am forever ... The Beginning...

Friday, December 27, 2013

Shadow Blade Gameplay

We have a new video up for Shadow Blade to show a full play-though for one of its levels. Our current target is to release Shadow Blade early February on AppStore and the Android markets.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Time

This post is going to be about books, great books that have been highly valuable for me in the past months, some informative, some influential, some breath taking and some wonderfully amusing. Here goes the list with no particular order, just like how I usually get involved with books and read them.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

 Guy Kawasaki is a very interesting person with numerous amount of books and presentations mostly related to entrepreneurship. A very amazing pattern is repeated quite often where a team forms and does something exceptional in a specific period of time and synergy proves once again that it can change the world significantly by showing how the value of the team is much more than the sum of its parts. Time goes, the team is disbanded and each and every one of these people continue glowing in different areas and at different places, they might not experience the same level of excellency again but still they provide value in a different scale. Guy Kawasaki is one of the people from the original Mac days at Apple. Well I just wrote about this pattern because I thought it is related to Kawasaki himself and this is not related to the contents of the book, the book is in general about how you can interact with people and teams in a professional environment in order to be enchanting and charismatic. A very smooth and interesting read.

Co-Opetition by Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff

A word created by mixing Cooperation and Competition. A form of Yin and Yang which can be witnessed in the industry today between major corporations and this book delves into the subject and proves how competition and cooperation are crucial and necessary in today's business interaction and shows many examples of how it is happening around us and how it can prove to be a win-win situation for the organizations. This book touches upon some of the fundamentals of game theory and is a very easy read. An inspiring book.

Miyamoto Musashi was one of the best Samurai sword-masters. He has left a very important book known as the Book of Five Rings where he talks about the soul of being a samurai and bushido. This book however contains 42 tips that have been extracted from the Book of Five Rings that although belong to the way of the Samurai, they can be used in daily life, work and business. Very concise and excellent. Can be read in a day but needs to be around to refer back to every once in a while to see what these legendary masters can teach us still that we can use daily in a different world.

I had heard about Steve Jobs and read about him a bit before his death and probably had some information from him and what he did in his life like all other people and small bits that could be extracted from news sites and magazine articles. However, I was totally blown away when I started reading this book and I read the whole 630 pages of it with the background music of my heart doing the drums. It is one of the best books written about one of the most important people in recent history. I always thought that there is a certain amount of hype around Apple company, its products and its leaders but I was totally changed after reading this book, oh and changed as a consumer too and converted to Apple products! Walter Isaacson is a marvelous writer and the whole biography is nothing short of fascinating. I highly recommend this book. There have been quite a few books written about Steve Jobs recently but this is the one that should be read. This book can change you and the way you look at things forever. This book was also a source of introducing a few more great books and topics for me, some should be in this list.

The Game of Thrones TV series is great. Like many other movies and series, the book is much much more great. I have wondered and become quite mesmerized a few times after reading this book about the magical fact that how is it that one person can create such deep and detailed fantasy universes. Seems like there is absolutely no limits to the human imaginations (some humans of course) and this is just fascinating. Game of Thrones is a very special type of Fantasy novel, it walks along the fine line between realistic historical events and a fantasy world. 

Rick Pitino is a great Basketball Coach. We used to talk about Basketball all day with friends during high school and University days and a lot of times the discussions diverged from technical talks and turned into how Basketball is life and life is Basketball. Well, this book is exactly an essay about how to being successful in life with lessons from Basketball. 

This is a book about a central concept, the concept of disruptive technologies. Technologies that emerge from nowhere and overthrow huge and stable companies and older technologies. Something that has happened numerous times in the past decades. Clayton Christensen analyses this fact very well. I was able to related these ideas to the game industry and it all made great sense. The mobile games industry is an exact example of a disruptive technology. The book contains many examples. By the way, this is one of the books that was Steve Job's favorite. Apple itself has been a disruptive technology many and overthrown the giants many times.

Malcolm Gladwell is another very interesting author with many interesting books. This book delves into the unknown magic that happens in people's mind with the blink of an eye. The instant you know something, that very instant. As usual Malcolm Gladwell evaluates many real world scenarios and they are very interesting. One part of the book which I enjoyed very much is about how experts can find out something instantly like art experts that can know whether a painting is fake or original by a sub second look. This is something I have witnessed in many talented people that I have worked with. Like Outliers from the same author, this is a smooth and fun to read book which gives you a few angles to look at a few real world matters. 

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

Well, I read this book for the fourth time recently! Probably the most influential book that I have ever read. This is probably the book that caused a change of track in my professional life by giving me the proper courage to break out of the conventional path that was ahead of me. The fabulous story of id software and how they started and how they changed the game industry. David Kushner is an excellent author also and he has done great research for this book. This book is very high on my leader-board.

Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo and William Scott Wilson

Hagakure is Hagakureh. Another gem from the past that must be re-read every few months. "A unique guide to living - and dying: a focused life, a willing death ... ". What topic can be better than this?

I always liked Pat Riley and enjoyed watching him on the sideline coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and then the New York Knicks and finally with Miami Heat. The 87-88 Lakers were the team from outer space for me to watch and get blown away by when I was starting the Basketball years. This is another inspiring book about life and leadership from one of the best Basketball coaches. He refers to specific events during his coaching, which are very interesting to hear from the team's coach, knowing that you always witnessed the events from the other side and as a fan. Weaved in between all the basketball events are great tips and advice to be used for daily life activities or work. Alas, there is only one true way!

I was thinking about checking out some new Science Fiction stories for a game project that we are working on when I found out about John Scalzi and his Science Fiction novels. So far I have read The Ghost Brigades and it was quite fantastic. A very good author with interesting stories and a lot of novel Sci-Fi ideas. It is very much interesting how different modern Sci-Fi books are compared to the ones from 20 or more years ago. Technology has changed tremendously in these years so no wonder Sci-Fi needed an overhaul. The next book from the author that is queued for me to read is Red Shirts.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe... by S. C. Gwynne

Native Indians have always been interesting from me. I like their integrity and simplicity and pure connection to nature. Unlike the way they have always been portrayed in the modern media, there seems to be a lot of depth in their culture. This book is based on a true story about one of the strongest Indian tribes, the Comanche. A great book to read that takes you to the beautiful lands owned by Indians in early 18th century.

Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (3rd Edition) by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister

This book was in my "To Read" list for quite some time until I heard in a talk from Gabe Newell that this is his bible! What I did after viewing that talk was to read this book from cover to cover and for sure this is one of the best book written about management and working with teams. Absolute beauty! Valve is one of the best companies in the world regarding its business and products and most importantly and quite related to the previous point, regarding its work environment and its organization structure (a flat organization). This book will help you understand companies like Valve very well.

Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Keep, and Nurture Talent by Nolan Bushnell and Gene Stone

Nolan Bushnell is the founder of Atari. He was the leader of an exceptional team that did exceptional things back in the days that the Atari machines defined the video game industry. Steve Jobs was one of their employees for some time before Apple and Nolan Bushnell has been among the few people who saw Steve Jobs for what he could be and became one of his mentors for many years to come. This book with its fancy title is quite fun to read and focuses on the dark art of dealing with talented people and how different management and leadership skills are required if you are going to work with great talents and the usual business management skills and standards are just going to make you lose people and go down the drain, well, unless you handle mediocre people of course.

This is a very interesting Sci-Fi or rather Cyberpunk story. Although this is the first serious work by the young author, its quality is quite good. A near future story where people mostly live in a big massively multiplayer game with a lot of references to the 80s and 90s pop culture. I have not finished this book yet but so far it has been quite fun to read.

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty

This is not the first book I've read by the best coach of all time, Phil Jackson. Phil talks about the details of events and his ideas and journey during his coaching years with the Bulls and the Lakers. Philosophical at times with many references as how he used his eastern philosophical knowledge and zen to handle the chaos.

Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by David Kushner

Another very good book by the author of Masters of Doom, David Kushner. This is the story of Grand Theft Auto. Although not as inspirational as Masters of Doom but still an interesting read about one of the most successful video game IPs.

The Art of UNIX Programming (The Addison-Wesley Professional Computng Series) by Eric S. Raymond

Eric Raymond has many good books and articles, The Cathedral and the Bazaar being one of them. This book describes the philosophy behind the design of Unix and the people that worked on it. The hacker culture in general. A fascinating book. Simple, true, beautiful with much love.

The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses by Jesse Schell

This is one of the best books written about game design. Very complete and it follows a well thought process and unlike many other books written on the topic, this one analyses the game design related issues very well both from a low level and implementation stand point and also from a high level and philosophical view. A must read for game designers.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki and David Chadwick

One of the most important attitudes that anyone can have in order to succeed is to always maintain your beginner's mind, the way you saw the world when you were a beginner in a field. Losing the beginner's mind can be a starting point to lose it all. This is a great book on Zen.

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh, Vo-Dihn Mai and Mobi Ho

Another fabulous book about Zen. The very interesting view that this book has is that you do not need to hide yourself away from the world and sit in solitude to be mindful and meditate, you can do all that while you are engaged in your daily life. This book adjusts your view towards life, a positive adjustment.

Derrida For Beginners by Jim Powell and Van Howell 

Derrida is a very mysterious philosopher with an out of the box way of looking at the world. His deconstruction theory is one that made me curious to learn more about this great thinker. This book is a graphical introduction to his ideas, easy to read but not very easy to understand.

Team Leadership in the Game Industry by Seth Spaulding 

I have recently started reading this one but so far it seems to be a good one. Leadership is not trivial, especially in the game industry where you have to deal with all kinds of people coming from all kinds of backgrounds and with quite different behaviors and ways of looking at their lives and careers. The author has had good experiences in this field and as it seems, leadership in game industry has been a main curiosity for him for quite some time.

Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play by Morgan Ramsay and Peter Molyneux

Reading the stories of successful people in a field is always fun. This book is a series of interviews with some major figures in the game industry. Very inspirational.

Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society by Karl Ulrich

Design, Design, Design. It is all about design. Problem solving and coming up with solutions. This is what needs to be done in life in order to create and perceive meaning. This is the essence of engineering. This book is a general book on Design. Interesting to read, although this is not directly about game design, all the principles map to game design very well. Although I have to say that you will not find much ideas that you did not know about if you have been involved with some serious design work, however, reading things that you feel you know unconsciously can always help in refining and solidifying your knowledge.

The Making of Karateka: Journals 1982-1985 by Jordan Mechner

These are Jordan Mechner's personal logs from the days he was working on the original Karateka game and Prince of Persia. It takes you to those years and the challenges that developers had back in the 80's to make games. Fun to read.

The Macintosh Way by Guy Kawasaki 

A classic from Guy Kawasaki, a story of the people behind the original Macintosh. What they believed in, how they worked and their way of life and work. Highly recommended book.

Artificial Intelligence for Games (The Morgan Kaufmann Series in Interactive 3D Technology) by Ian Millington

There are quite a few books around regarding video game AI but this one seems to be more complete, detailed and well written. The Morgan Kaufmann series in game development are usually good books, this one is not an exception. 

Aikido: The Peaceful Martial Art by Stefan Stenudd 

Aikido is beautiful. Martial arts in general are beautiful and the way the balance the physical and mental aspects is probably their significant point. Aikido is very special among them. A technique concerned mostly with harmony, the life energy and the truth. Stefan Stenudd has written a beautiful book where he talks about the techniques, the philosophy and the beauty of the art. 

Fight Club: A Novel by Chuck Palahniuk

I loved the movie, I loved this book. I really like this story and the narrative is amazing in the book, well it was quite good in the movie too.

Revolution in The Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made by Andy Hertzfeld

The title says it all! I have to stress one thing though: It is in fact an insanely great story!

It is quite nice to be able to read such wonderful writings, my joy is that there seems to be a lot more interesting books in the queued "To-Read" list.