Reality is a Game

Thoughts on the evolving game world around us.

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The Hardships Of Indie Game Marketing

95% of indie games are not profitable.

Emmy Jonassen shares facts and scary tales about marketing indie games in this talk she gave at Konsoll 2013. It’s worth watching and has a ton of tidbits of knowledge that can help you promote your game.

I wish I had watched this before we launched AstroDoge. Some of what she talked about we have already done, for example the proper landing page to YouTube trailers we created ahead of time for the launch. To be honest, the hardest part of all of the indie game marketing I’ver ever done is the social media aspect.

Relatedly, today we launched an update to the game that adds functionality that people wanted from the original release. You can download it on Android and iOS.

Edit: Emmy just posted a template for a great press release page.

Transmedia Thoughts From TIFF Industry Conference

Transmedia is basically a useless word, but I’m using it here because that’s what TIFF uses it. Transmedia really is just media nowadays, not to get hung up on the word though….
Anyway, last year I attended the TIFF Industry Conference and enjoyed it. Recently, TIFF posted some of their recordings of the conference, two of which are worth watching if you’re doing anything related to visual and interactive storytelling:

They have more on the YouTube channel.

Scapa Flow: My #1GAM WWI Submarine Game

For my April one game a month challenge I “finished” my submarine game. Finished is in quotes because there are still things I want to improve but it’s playable. It’s unlike other submarine games in the sense that there are no battle tactics, only conversational tactics. And unlike the last post on this game, it now has a title: Scapa Flow.

Scapa Flow

Scapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland which served as a base for the British Grand Fleet during both World Wars. The base closed in 1956 with only three known u-boat incursions. The title of the game alludes to the frustrations on both sides of the war: the English feared u-boat infiltration and the Germans knew that successfully attacking Scapa Flow was a pipe dream.

I have previously written about some of the design rationale. This post is about the current state of the game.

If you want to play the game please contact me as it’s in private beta right now.

Scapa Flow Gameplay

The player takes on the role of commanding a German U-boat during the First World War. They navigate open waters near a coast with relatively heavy shipping and protection from the British Royal Navy. The goal is to sink British ships while not getting caught, you can be caught by engaging with a civilian ship giving away your location or a British ship finding you.

ScapaFlowGame

Scapa Flow is set before February 1915 when the Germans announced that they were engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare. Which means that the player needs to discern which is an enemy combatant ship and which isn’t. There is only one clear way of doing this in the game as some civilian-looking ships are actually Royal Navy ships. The way to figure out foe from anyone else is to use radio.

The use of radio in the Great War was amateur at best because of the newness of the technology and a lack of training on how to use it. In the game, I made it so the only use of radio is for conversations with nearby ships. This may be a bit of a stretch but it gives the player agency beyond guessing. If you’re interested in learning more about radio at this time you can read Wireless Waves in the World’s War.

There is no clear way to win the game and that is on purpose. In Scapa Flow game, even if you “win” by sinking enemy ships you’re not rewarded for it. The only thing that permits the player to keep playing is to not bring the Declaration of Paris – which is harder than you think!

The goal of the game is to point out the rules of engagement that were used in the early stages of the Great War. When talking about the early land war I often find people reference cavalry charges against tanks (which is a myth and not even during WW1); however, there is truth to the claim that generals were having to relearn how to fight. New technology and powerful weapons literally change the shape of the battlefield. Having to adjust to new techniques was not isolated to just land battles – it extended to sea battles too.

At the start of the war the British and French destroyed German surface shipping. Britain had the largest navy at the time and the Germans were considered quite weak. So, the Germans were essentially blockaded – except for their u-boats. Now the tides had turned and the weaker naval force could cause considerable damage.

The Germans were able to sink Royal Navy ships but they also wanted to stop war material shipping. This posed a problem of whether or not naval warfare ought to follow the ‘old’ rules of the sea. That means military ships should only attack other military ships and not attack civilians – as that would be considered piracy. At first, the Germans followed the anti-piracy rules known as the Declaration of Paris.

Captains were supposed to message merchant ships, let them know you’re searching their ship. Then, if something is found, let the crew evacuate the ship. Thus leaving the ship to be scuttled or taken as a prize. The problem with all of this, is that u-boats need to surface to do so.

A surfaced submarine is vulnerable. The British (knowing that the Germans were following the prize rules) started putting hidden guns on merchant ships so when a u-boat surfaced near a merchant ship the u-boat was vulnerable and could be attacked.

International

The Germans were told that if they used their u-boats to target merchants that the USA would enter the war. America entering the war so early would increase the probability that the Germans would lose the war and lose access to the material the Americans were selling to both sides.

All this time, the French and British submarines were sitting essentially idle at dock with nothing to shoot at.

Nobody wins in the Great War, one side just lost less.

Designing the game:

Like other months, I create some design goals or challenges for myself. As always, there are technical limits (or new tools) I place on myself and thematic tasks too. This time around I had two technically related choices set out for myself:

On the thematic side, I wanted to explore making a serious game that had a short gameplay experience which could encourage a class discussion. This worked out quite well for a game built starting at a jam as the scope wasn’t insane.

As you can gather from the above description of the game play I likely went too far in scope. At the same time, it’s a short and simple game. It took some time to get back up to speed on some Unity things but once I did, everything started to progress at an OK rate.

Using Unity was a good decision, and most of the games I make for the rest of the year will be in Unity (That being said, my next game uses GameSalad).

I should have been able to do all of this in C#, instead I decided to use PlayMaker and I’m not sure it made things easier.

Playmaker

Playmaker

Playmaker is a visual editing tool that is designed for people who aren’t familiar with programming. At first I was pretty impressed by it as it’s obvious that one can build an entire game using PlayMaker. By the end of working on Scapa Flow I found it frustrating. The reason for this is less PlayMaker than it is me starting to learn C#.

If you are planing on making a game using PlayMaker I suggest that you use only PlayMaker and to not try to integrate text-based scripting with it. Another thing to keep an eye on is how you use the scripting on game objects in Unity. I decided to create a camera controller script separate from the conversations players have with ships and this ended up being more trouble than it was worth. If I was to do this again, I would structure the game objects in a more logical way for PlayMaker whereas the structure I used makes sense for non-visual scripting.

Next steps:

To be honest, there are still some bugs in the game which I’m squashing as I work on May’s game. Keeping up with getting a game a month completed is harder than I predicted (no shock there) and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get back on pace soon. Still, some progress is better than no progress.

Regardless, I may need to decrease my scope for the rest of the year’s projects.

From an earlier version of the game showing the periscope view.

From an earlier version of the game showing the periscope view.

Here’s a rundown of what I want to do with the game before making a big release:

  • More play testing
  • Finish accompanying lesson plan
  • Fix minor game bugs
  • Add more conversation branches
  • Get it working on tablets (maybe)

Once those are complete I’ll put the final game out in the wild.

As with many recent projects, I must thank Ali for a whole bunch of help.

My previous #1GAM games:

January – Gnome Oppressor
February – Village of Cards
March – AstroDoge

Simulations Used By Militaries

It is no secret that militaries use simulation software and games to train their troops. And often the video gaming world and the military industrial complex collide to produce some bizarre projects (America’s Army and the ilk). Some other projects are really interesting and can produce some real positive results for people outside of the military too.

Recently some coverage of the Canadian military using virtual reality (VR) tools to treat soldieries who are suffering from post-tramautic stress disorder (PTSD). CTV recently looked at the current state of VR in helping veterans suffering from PTSD. PTSD is treated by trying to make the initial experience less traumatic through “reliving” it.

“We try to re-immerse (soldiers) in the traumatic event that they lived through,” said Vincent. “This allows them to face it, stop avoiding the memories, and process them.”
For MCpl. Neil Macey, who served as a medic in Kandahar, the program takes his mind right back to the warzone.
After strapping on a visor on his head, Macey is taken inside a first-person shooter video game. The platform he stands on shakes during a virtual explosion, and moving images are shown in all directions with sounds of helicopters, screams and sirens in the distance.

The CBC looked at this two years ago and it looks like since then the Canadian armed forces have extended their efforts in treating PTSD. Last Novemeber, the medical show White Coat Black Art examined PTSD treatment from the perspective of caregivers and sufferers. It’s hard to listen to at points.

A 2013 report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that fourteen percent of Canadian Forces who served in Afghanistan were diagnosed with a mental health disorder and eight percent have PTSD.  

One of those is retired Master Corporal Mark Verrall, a forty-one year old medic whose twenty-four year career included stints in Bosnia and Dubai as well as two tours of duty in Afghanistan.  He tells us about his PTSD and the traumatic event that triggered it.  He also tells us that when he first tried to tell his supreriors about his problems the message he got back was “suck it up” and move on.

On the other side of battle, training, the American armed forces created a real world simulation of an Afghani town. It’s located at the National Training Center in California. Troops are required to train there before being sent overseas to the Middle East. It seems like something that Jean Baudrillard would have loved to dissect.

Venue took a tour and have published a photo-filled exploration of the training facility.

A twenty-minute drive later, through relatively featureless desert, our visit to “Afghanistan” began with a casual walk down the main street, where we were greeted by actors trying to sell us plastic loaves of bread and piles of fake meat. Fort Irwin employs more than 350 civilian role-players, many of whom are of Middle Eastern origin, although Ferrell explained that they are still trying to recruit more Afghans, in order “to provide the texture of the culture.”

In other words, at the most basic level, soldiers will use Fort Irwin’s facsimile villages to practice clearing structures and navigating unmapped, roofed alleyways through cities without clear satellite communications links. However, at least in the training activities accessible to public visitors, the architecture is primarily a stage set for the theater of human relations: a backdrop for meeting and befriending locals (again, paid actors), controlling crowds (actors), rescuing casualties (Fort Irwin’s roster of eight amputees are its most highly paid actors, we learned, in recompense for being literally dragged around during simulated combat operations), and, ultimately, locating and eliminating the bad guys (the Blackhorse regiment).

If your interested in following how video games, and other gaming techniques/technologies, are used by the armed forces I’ve collected a few links. I keep up to date on what militaries are up to by following a couple different sources beyond the news:

Training & Simulation Journal
War Is Boring
DefenceTalk
Jane’s

If you know of more please leave a link in the comments.

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