Goat Race!

SpeedRunsLive is hosting a live race of Escape Goat 2! Join in the fun, as a participant or devoted fan, on Saturday, April 26th, starting at 11AM Pacific/2PM Eastern (19:00 GMT). This is for “any%” so you don’t need to rescue more than 7 sheep… unless you really want to rub it in the nose of the competition.

Nice time from Steam user murlakatamenka

Nice time from Steam user murlakatamenka

I will be participating in the race, though depending on how many pros enter with elite strats, I don’t know how well I will fare. Maybe I should just use a debug version, remove wall clipping and make the goat fly. It doesn’t say anything in the rules about that…

Edit: Okay, so there is a rule against it. Guess I will have to just roll up my sleeves…

Top scorer gains immortality, in the form of a Steam achievement in his or her namesake. See you there!

Posted in Uncategorized

How I Organize Projects as an Indie Developer

When I was in elementary school, I had a reputation for being completely disorganized. Homework assignments were often lost or forgotten because they were swallowed by the dark abyss that was my backpack. Efforts were made by my teachers and parents to improve things, but sadly, progress from age 6 through 18 was not substantial.  Let’s also just say that I wasn’t the ideal college student.  I found a sanctuary in my first real post-college job as a web programmer at a small firm.  Because all the organization was done by the project manager, all I had to do was execute. It was simple and beautiful.

This all changed in 2002, when I got an offer to switch careers into something I had dreamed about doing since I was a kid: making video game soundtracks.  I took on my first ever paid gigs, with Amaze Entertainment, doing all music and sound effects for both Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets GBC, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers GBA.  Now, I was responsible for everything: making my own hours, choosing how to spend my time, problem solving at the project level. As a contractor, I was on my own. And it started out great… I remember the teams being impressed with my first couple audio deliveries. The work was steady but not overwhelming… at first.

lotr_ttThe turning point was getting emails in my inbox faster than I could handle them.  Emails were starting to represent day-long to-do’s in themselves. My project notes were also starting to get out of hand.  When I met with the teams at Amaze, I wrote down everything important on a big yellow pad, which I used for reference. Thirty pages of hand written scribbles. The chaos was mounting.

GTD – The Induction

It was around this time that I remember reading a sidebar in WIRED on the latest trending buzzwords, and one of them was “open loop”–any ongoing project that has unresolved aspects to it, subconsciously draining your mental energy. This came from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, which was gaining traction as a nerd-friendly organization methodology for the 21st century.  I picked up a copy and instantly became a zealot.  It was one of the few legitimately life-changing books for me.  24 years into life, I finally learned how to keep a calendar–something I never did before then, and have continued to this day.  It also taught me how to plan projects, organize my room, clear out my email inbox, and generally track tasks so you don’t have to do them as fast as they appear..

In a nutshell, GTD is meant to operate like a filter than turns the chaos of your life–clutter, new emails, scraps of paper, thoughts, worries, downloaded files–into various lists where they are managed, so you can stop thinking about them, freeing up your mental RAM for more important daily tasks…like getting things done.  One of the linchpin principles is the “next action.” This means picking the very next step in a project, no matter how small, and writing that down as a starting place.  Contrast this with writing down entire projects as to-do’s, which is everyone’s tendency.

The Modifications – Heresy

GTD got my work life back under control, and I was able to pretty consistently keep up with the demands of multiple projects and managing my own time. I can’t say I was perfect with that, but on the whole my productivity was where it needed to be to stay afloat.  And yet, there were problems with the system I never quite resolved.

My main hitch is that GTD focuses heavily on “100% capture”.  This means not allowing for any lingering chaos in your life–even that cardboard box full of IDE cables and video cards on the top shelf of your closet, which might also have your CD key to Red Alert…  In short, everything must be on a List.  In the GTD universe, it boils down to 3 of them: Next Actions, Projects (which NA’s are tied to), and Someday/Maybe. There’s also Waiting For which is for stuff you can’t do anything about right now, but should follow up eventually on.

  • I found 100% capture to be impossible. You’re supposed to do weekly reviews, bringing all the lists up to date and removing all the chaos from your life, but the magnitude and tedium of this task made it so undesirably that I would typically only do reviews every few months.  I decided to aim for 80-90% capture and being fine with it.
  • My next modification was removing the Someday/Maybe List. You’re supposed to use this to track things you want to do someday so you don’t forget them. Within a year, my list grew to 200+ things, and even the quickest scan of it was enough to depress me. I called it the Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Do I really need to be reminded constantly of all the things I wanted to do at some point, but haven’t yet?  Deleting this list felt amazing.
  • There’s one other thing I couldn’t get around with GTD, and that’s the size of the lists themselves. Allen suggests a Next Actions list of 100 items, and projects list could be around that same size.  So imagine sitting down to work, taking a sip of morning coffee, and having to face that. It’s like staring up the Cliffs of Insanity.  Instant overwhelm. Urge to play online games rising.  I ended up leaving less important stuff off the lists, to keep the size down.

As time went on, my methods resembled GTD less and less. Eventually, it could no longer be said that I was a GTD practitioner.

My Own System – Apostasy

notepadMy new method revolved around plain text files in Notepad, which had a short list of Next Actions at the top.  Sometimes I would write a goal for the day or week at the very top of the file.  As I completed next actions, I would copy them to a list below to show my daily progress (did you know you can clock in and out of Notepad with F5?). I had about four such files, each representing a different major project in my life.  Everything that didn’t fit in there was tracked in Gmail–every email that represented a task was labeled “Action.”  A good blend of order and chaos, but it was a bit too hard to get an overview of the immediately important things, day by day.

1MTD - The Innest Religion, 2014

Every so often I crawl the web to see what the latest organization software and methodologies are.  Would something, someday, supplant GTD as the reigning personal organization and life management solution?  And I found Master Your Workday Now. Brand new, but intriguing based on the reviews. The author graciously provides a free ebook describing the whole “One Minute Todo List” (1MTD) system.  It only took about an hour to read the whole thing and set everything up.  I’ve been using the system without modification for a month now, and I have to say, so far, it’s pretty freaking awesome.

The basic idea of 1MTD is keeping the visible size of the lists small. This is accomplished by a) sorting tasks into three urgency categories, and b) deferring tasks by putting a future start date on them.  (It recommends Toodledo for task management because you can set priorities easily, and future tasks can be hidden from view.)

The three urgency levels:

  1. Critical Now–Do this today or stay up all night to finish it (most days don’t have anything here)
  2. Opportunity Now–Is due in the next 10 days, so work on it if you can
  3. Over The Horizon–Don’t worry about these until later, just check this list every week or so.

What works so well is that by keeping lists small, they don’t get enormous and overwhelming.  It’s an important psychological component. Stuff moves around day by day–what seemed critical yesterday might not be very important today. And maybe there’s a whole category of work you’re going to put off until Thursday, you can just defer it by setting the start date to then.

If you’re struggling with getting things done, and have a love-hate relationship with organization, give the free ebook a read.

Four weeks is not really enough time to judge a system like this, so we’ll see how it mutates under my command as the year goes by. But, I can say so far it’s simple and fun to use.

If you found this article useful or entertaining, please comment below, and I’ll do a follow-up later on.

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
Posted in Articles

Escape Goat 2 Demo Available to Preorder Customers, and Update

I have two pieces of news today. The good news is that I have made the PAX demo available to preorder customers. If you log into your Humble account, you should have access to a Steam key for Escape Goat 2.  (This key will eventually grant access to the final game.)

What’s in the demo?

It’s kind of a teaser with about 20-30 minutes of content. It has 15 stages, showing three different zones. Stage select and map access are disabled, so to play both branches you’ll need to play through twice. Saving is also disabled in this version, but since it’s a short experience I hope that won’t be a huge issue for you. The game hasn’t been tested on a wide variety of hardware yet, so let me know how it runs on your system.

EscapeGoat2 2013-11-28 12-35-22-43So when will the final game be available?

That’s the second piece of news.  It’s looking like….February 2014.  I know that’s several months after the original date of September 2013 (almost two months ago now)–it was already an ambitious date to hit, and a few things came up which stalled development on EG2. Some of these were extremely fortunate in the long run, others not so much.  So I present to you: the great List of Excuses of 2013.

1. In July, we focused on the PAX 10 build

We chose to focus on making a great demo experience at the expense of holding off on some of the late game features. Preparing the demo took about a full week, PAX itself was a week including drive time, and then there was at least a week of recovery after that. To be honest, I wasn’t at 100% stamina until maybe a month later. This provided a huge boost in terms of publicity and will help make the game a bigger hit, when it launches–but it did indeed delay launch by about a month.

2. In August, EG1 got Greenlit

I spent a lot of my post-PAX recovery time internally debating which game to focus on. After talking with my team, friends, and other trusted sources, I decided to put EG2 in the freezer while I prepared EG1 for its proper Steam launch. My hope was that Steamworks integration, testing, and storefront setup would only take two weeks. It ended up taking almost five… and once the launch happened, there were three weeks where I spent about four hours every morning on support, community interaction, and fixes. I eventually just had to cut it off and say that from here on out, I’m focused solely on EG2. I had to give up on solving 100% of the issues with the game, but I am happy with how the launch went and I think I responded well to the support tickets as they came up.

3. The dreaded map system I devised continued to torment me

Man, this thing. When I would show the game to new players, they were just not getting the concepts of using the map to warp to unfinished branches after reaching a dead end or locked door.  Randy and I workshopped lots of solutions to this, and it is coming along, but boy did it take up a chunk of time. It will definitely add value to the final game experience, but its real value to me is a lesson in being careful about adding features that seem great on paper, but in context don’t directly enhance the core game experience.

4. Random illness and a day of jury duty

Probably another week delay here… at least I wasn’t selected to be on the jury.

EscapeGoat2 2013-11-28 12-34-48-96So where do we stand right now?

I’ve made great progress in the last couple weeks–lots of new levels added, fixes made, and the map system seems to be working a lot better–but there’s lots left to be done.  Here’s a rough idea:

  • Level design–we have about 50 puzzles with maybe 20 in development. I can crank out 10 a day of these, with about a 50% attach rate, so that’s not a big issue.
  • Music–the soundtrack is halfway done.
  • Sound design–there are new gadgets that need sound effects, and some of the old EG1 sounds in use need to be upgraded to math the hi fi look of EG2.
  • Ending and credits scenes.
  • Special code for map, doors unlocking, stuff like that.
  • Minor aesthetics and bug fixes, like the mouse spazzing out when it walks across moving floors.
  • Story text.

If things go well, it can be done by the end of the year. That will leave January for playtesting and promotion, and February can be launch month.

Thank you for bearing with me during this development process. This is by far the most complex game I’ve made, and it will also be my finest work.  I hope you find it worth the wait.

Posted in Uncategorized

Escape Goat is Live on Steam!

If you’ve been following this game at all, you’ll know how long it took to make this happen (one year on Greenlight). At long last, I’m proud to show the game on the front page of the Steam marketplace!  Check it out!

Steam front page

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Dev Journal

Escape Goat Owners: How to Claim Your Steam Key

Escape Goat is in beta on Steam right now, and I’ve been distributing keys to the various marketplaces and bundles that have sold Escape Goat over the past year and a half. (Crazy that it’s been that long, and it’s just now coming to Steam–it’s like a launch all over again in some ways.)

If you haven’t claimed your Steam key yet, here’s the status based on where you bought the game:

  • Humble Store (bought on this website) – You should have received a link via email
  • IGN Game of the month (also distributed with Humble Store keys) – Contact me
  • Desura – Keys available if you log in (see instructions below)
  • Indie Gala – Use the Desura key you got with the bundle
  • IndieGameStand – Log in to IGS and claim your key
  • Indie Royale – See Desura instructions below
  • Indie Gala – See Desura instructions below
  • Green Light Bundle – Keys will be available in about 2 weeks
  • Others - Contact me

How to claim your Steam key from Desura

  1. Open the Desura client
  2. Click on the blue button at the top left
  3. Click on History>Gifts History
  4. Click on the “your collection” link in blue
  5. Click on “Keys” next to Escape Goat

(Thanks to fluffnugget on the Steam forums for this)

Achievements and Beta Progress:

If you want to go for the achievements in the game, here’s a list of them.  They won’t appear in the client until the game is on the marketplace.

The game should launch within a week or so if all goes according to plan. Let me know if you have any questions or if you have trouble claiming your keys.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in Dev Journal

What It’s Like to Show at PAX 10 and Get Greenlit In The Same Week

The last few weeks have been surreal for me. EMO ALERT: This is one of the most personal posts I’ve written here, not to mention rather disorganized and stream-of-consciousness, but it’s a story worth telling. I hope you find it interesting. Not many people get to experience what I have over the past few months, so I’d like to describe what the ride has been like.  

Let’s start with a quick overview of my PAX experience:

  • Selected for PAX10 along with 9 other talented, friendly dev teams
  • Escape Goat 1 Greenlit
  • Valve directly offered to distribute Escape Goat 2
  • Demoed the game to estimated 500 PAX attendees (and thousands more watched)
  • Sold over 100 preorders on the show floor
  • Made some invaluable media contacts

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Dev Journal

Delayed… And some Notes on Feature Cost

Escape Goat 2 is going to be delayed.

I’ve deliberated this decision for the past week or so, and ultimately it’s the right move to make. I’m hoping this post will shed some light on things for those of you who’ve been waiting for the game and were hoping to get it just a week after PAX.

There was a point, a month ago, when it seemed feasible. Just about everything was in place, bugs were at a minimum, and it seemed like only level design and music composition were left on my plate. I’m pretty fast at making levels, so even with the inevitable redesigns (and 50% discard rate), it was totally doable.

There was just one thing that hadn’t quite been fully nailed down, and it lurked in the shadows undetected for months: the map system. (Read the next section if you want the grisly details.)

Preparing for PAX, and the day to day business stuff of running an indie game studio, also devoured whole days at a time this month. While I think it’s possible for me to sprint to the September 10 date, it’ll come at the cost of:

  1. Less playtesting, and thus less polish on the levels
  2. Less time spent on marketing and publicity, and thus lower sales overall

We’ve put 10 months into this project. As much as I want to release it to the world soon, I believe that delaying is the right move to make.

My apologies to everyone who preordered hoping to unwrap a shiny new Escape Goat 2 download on September 10. Please contact me if you want a refund. I’m hoping you stick around though, because this game is going to be a lot of fun.

As of now I’m hesitant to give another launch date. I’m going to save that until after PAX. It would be great to keep it within September, but that’s just an aspiration at this point, not a guarantee.  If you’re at PAX this weekend, be sure to drop by and play the build. And if you are a preorderer, I can apologize to you in person, or try to bribe you with one of our shiny new 1.25″ buttons.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Dev Journal

Why Escape Goat 2 is (Probably) Not Coming to Xbox Live Indie Games

Last week I spent three days at CasualConnect in San Francisco showing Escape Goat 2, as part of their amazing Indie Prize event. Free demo space, lunches, snacks, and an open bar every day!  I felt like royalty. I wish I had time to play more games and see more of the show, but I was pretty committed to demoing Escape Goat 2 the whole time. I hardly left my table during show hours.

The most common question I got was “So is this coming to mobile?” which has a lot to do with it being CasualConnect. Being a paid-up-front, download game on PC, I was definitely a fringe title for the event. I resisted the urge to give a flat “no” to the mobile port question, and instead explain how the game would need to be redesigned for touch input, and with a direct port it just wouldn’t be a high quality game. (Imagine: Virtual D-Pad)  Pretty much everyone got it when I put it that way.  Each platform has a cost of porting, and I have a limited amount of time… it comes down to prioritization.

The priority is a basic equation: Potential revenue divided by hours of work.

eg2_alpha_july_4

It’s tricky because both of these numbers are guesses. For something like Wii-U, I doubt I could even get in the ballpark for either figure, so I’d have to do more research. For Xbox Live Indie Games, I have already released three games there, so I have a much clearer picture.

1. Potential Revenue

For potential revenue, I could look at how much each of my games made in their first year. I wish I had kept all the reports, because I can only download the most recent ones. But from the data I managed to revive, here are some estimates:

Game Launch First year revenue
Soulcaster March 2010 $8,000
Soulcaster II December 2010 $4,500
Escape Goat November 2011 $4,000

A lot of people are shocked when I tell them these figures.  But that’s just XBLIG, only certain types of games really make viable revenue there.  And as you can see, the trend is–though my games are getting objectively better–they make a little less money each time. It’s probably that the marketplace is getting more more crowded with high quality titles.

Compare those figures to what I made when these games launched on PC, in the Indie Royale bundle:

Game Launch Bundle Revenue
Soulcaster I & II February 2012 $17,000
Escape Goat June 2012 $15,000

This graph illustrates my 2012 revenue breakdown:

mtb revenue 2012 pie chart

There’s a chance Escape Goat 2, with its higher production value, will make more money than any of my other games on XBLIG. Very true! There’s also a chance that when the Xbox One comes out, Microsoft puts the 360 into the federal witness protection program, like they did with the Xbox when the 360 came out. Maybe the One will have a great self publishing deal–I’m keen to learn more about this in the coming months. But my future is not with the 360.

On the subject of revenue, there’s also the issue of pricing. Do I really offer my $10 PC game on XBLIG for just $1? I bet it would make more money there, but does this help me in the long run on other platforms?

2. Cost of Porting

The other variable in the equation is the time it will take to port. Now being built from the Escape Goat code base, EG2 should be ready to rock on the 360, right? Not really. The new lighting engine required a new renderer, so we’re not 100% organic XNA anymore. It could take a couple weeks to get the code to compile for 360, not to mention time spent on optimization. The file system needs to change to use storage devices. I have to remove every instance of default paramters.  I’ve got to do Evil Checklist testing, go through playtest and peer review. It could easily be a month-long project, and yield a separate code base in need of maintenance.

eg2_alpha_july_1

Escape Goat 2 has been chartered to make money. If I’m going to do this indie thing full time, I have to pick my battles wisely. I have a lot of fans on Xbox who don’t have a PC, or prefer to game on console (just like me!) and it bums me out that I have to snub them this time around.  I wish it wasn’t like this, and I hope in reading this article you can see what went into the decision to avoid XBLIG.

The Future

But just so this article isn’t a total bummer, let me close by saying that Escape Goat 2 really works best as a console game, and it will be on a console. Couch and controller. I will be in contact with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft later this year to see what it’ll take to port and publish on Wii-U, PS4 and Xbox One. I hope to see you guys on one of those systems. I owe my indie career to XBLIG, and it will always be special to me.

I’ll see you on the PC in September, and we’ll take it from there as opportunities come up.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Articles

Red Mage Style: Music Direction

What is Music Direction?

Music direction is picking which songs the game needs. How long they are, how they’re used in the game, and what style/mood they will have. The goal is to set up the soundtrack to influence the mood of the game.

For example, in Escape Goat, I wanted the game to have a serious tone to counterbalance the game’s title, so I picked a lot of darker stuff as reference songs.

If you don’t know where to start, try this:

The Fake Playlist Method

  1. Brainstorm and make a list of a dozen songs that might work well with your game. Pick a variety of tempos, moods and genres.
  2. Collect mp3′s of these songs (if you can find them on YouTube, you can get the mp3… Google it)
  3. Make a playlist in iTunes or Windows Media Player
  4. Play your game while the playlist is playing. Skip around from song to song, and notice how each song affects each scene.

That’s it! You’ll have a short list of tracks that work well, and you can probably describe in a few words what makes them work.

Here’s a video that demonstrates this process:

I’ve used this technique dozens of times when scoring games. When it comes to tracking music production, I love spreadsheets. All you need are these columns: Cue name, Target Length, Actual Length, Reference, Notes (for reworks–which should be minimized with this practice).

Have fun!

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Articles