Flashback: Quake 3/RTCW Level Design

I recently discovered an old Level Design portfolio I had made whilst in school circa 2000-2002. This was before I started university and any foray into C/C++ coding. They all have a name watermark in a particularly awful font!

I had actually coded windows utility apps before this – in Visual Basic! Maybe I will document those in a future post.

For today, here is a list of some maps I made/released. The Quake 3 mod these were designed for was Quake 3 Fortress(Q3F), and the Return to Castle Wolfenstein(RTCW) mod was Wolftactics. I was not on the Q3F dev team – those maps are unreleased. However, I was part of the Wolftactics team – so those maps were released with the mod in 2003. For that mod, I did level design and most of the user interface scripting.

Finding these screenshots brought back great memories of the old modding communities I was part of. I feel this may be something that isn’t as widespread nowadays – but back then, modding was perfect for dipping toes into game development.

q3f_halls

2000 – Quake 3 Fortress, unreleased, but match tested

q3f_garden

2000 – Quake 3 Fortress, unreleased

q3f_generator

2001 – Quake 3 Fortress, unreleased

wt_mach

2002 – Wolftactics RTCW Mod – released

wt_forts

2002 – Wolftactics RTCW Mod – released

wt_rct

2002 – Wolftactics RTCW Mod – released

And some bonus items for those who scrolled to the end: my first taste of something I helped create being reviewed in the games press.

Ahh, the memories.



Gears of Glory: Apex Ace – Singleplayer Game Modes

There has been much discussion over the past view days about the game modes planned for Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, especially given the ‘never seen before‘ time-shifted multiplayer of a racing game featured during this weeks Apple iPhone 5 keynote.

I’m not going to go into detail of what I think about the feature, or what past games had interactive ghosts/replays and how the affected gameplay. This post is about what Gears of Glory: Apex Ace offers.

The open beta releasing super-soon comes with several race modes:

Season Tier time-trial
In this mode, players race all of the season circuits. As they race, setting best laps and finding better lines to rise in the leaderboards, opponents appear alongside the players own best lap replay.

This is the first part of the Dynamic Opponent System at work – the opponent you face is usually the person directly above you in the leaderboards. As you progress, new opponents appear – and this happens on the fly.

So regardless of where you are, the singleplayer element revolves around racing other player laps, which have been raced at any time, and means you are always competing.

Player Race
This mode is very simple – when you view the Season Tier leaderboards, you can browse the ranking, and race any lap on the boards. Any. If your friend is above you in the standings and you just can’t find the time to beat them via the season time-trial, race directly against them and check out where they find time on the lap. If your friend is below you, view his lap and offer advice of where he can improve.

Player Challenge
This mode is very difficult, and successful players receive many trophies (the XP/score unit in the game). It is exactly as the Player race, apart from the fact the replay you are racing against is not a ghost but an interactive, collidable, entity.

To beat their lap, you need to find and maintain space to overtake. You can jostle, however, the game does not let you influence the lap time of the other player. If you try to ram, or jostle to an unacceptable level, you will crash and be left with a bad lap. Because of the trophy reward associated with this, only players around or above your current ranking can be raced. You cannot play the system by challenging the player last on the boards.

The three modes above is what’s shipping in the open beta. The next game mode is something I am quite excited about, and extends the dynamic opponents system.

Championship mode
In this mode, it is set out similar to racing games players already understand – circuits raced in a calendar style, progressing to different classes of car and larger, more challenging circuits. However, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace does not have different classes of car – only different classes of racers.

As you race, your position in the rankings is again measured. A grid of opponents is created, dynamically, from other players on the leaderboards around your position. Depending on the difficulty you play at, these players may be far ahead of you in the standings, or directly around you. You race a series of laps, but not in a time trial fashion – this is your standard, lap-bound, first to the finish race. You must maintain competitive, consistent lap times to progress. As you progress, the field around you changes to reflect your standings, making you compete against a different class of racer.

There is no AI at all in this mode. There is no AI in the game at all. If you see another racecar in Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, it is another player. That player does not need to be online for you to race their laps. Their best laps are all stored and retrieved from the OnlineServices.

I’ll keep everyone up to date on the progress for this mode, I obviously think it’s great 😉

Now, I need help from you. If you can find another racer that has a feature similar to this championship mode description, please tell me, I want to know! I’ve not seen any, but there are so many games out there.

So there we have it. The race modes of Gears of Glory: Apex Ace. If you have any questions, feel free to comment, either here or on facebook. You can contact me directly instead if you’d like, at @domipheus.

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace Pricing

It’s time to discuss pricing for Gears of Glory: Apex Ace.

Originally, I wanted to price the game around the cost of an espresso; about £1.50. The game is small, but there is a certain replayability aspect if you enjoy racing, so I think £1.50 is perfectly reasonable, albeit cheap for a PC release.

I’ve had to increase this to £2.40, for various reasons.

Reason 1) VAT. Before I state the following, please remember I Am Not An Accountant.

UPDATE

Well, I did say I was not an accountant. The next point on VAT is completely false. For digital goods, you only need to register + charge VAT in your own state if you go above the national threshold, which I don’t think I’ll be doing. So, VAT is now no longer an issue. I’ll post a new update in time! – Colin

Domipheus Labs is based in the UK. I am not registered in the UK for VAT. I do not expect income from games/services Domipheus Labs provide to go above the VAT registration threshold, so technically I do not need to charge VAT in sales to the UK – currently 20%. However, the EU Vat rules for digital goods are complicated. Basically, VAT is charged at the customer rate rather than the supplier rate. This means I would need to have in place the ability to charge and send VAT to the EU depending on location of the person buying the game. This is just far too much work for a 1-man band, so I am using a payment processor that handles this for me. But this then means I need to charge UK VAT, as it’s the payment processor who is actually selling the product, not me. Technically I can sell minus VAT only to UK buyers, via something like PayPal. I may do this in the future, but for now, it’s just too much work. I want the price quoted to be the price customers pay, so the VAT is absorbed into the higher sale price.

Reason 2) There are no good micro-transaction payment portals.

By good, I mean will handle everything I need – the above collecting of VAT for the EU, notifying my servers of a sale for licence key allocation, and, most importantly, doing this at a reasonably percentage cost of the transaction total. As it turns out, £1.50 is most definitely micro-micro transaction level – and there is just nothing good out there that will charge anything less than a third for the service.

The above two issues are expensive. Not expensive in terms of monetary value, it’s less than a pound we are talking, but as a percentage of our ‘micro transaction’ payment it’s massive. The payment processor I am using is FastSpring, and this cost will be around 50p per transaction. Now, FastSprings service has been amazing, so for 50p, to me, it seems worth it from my end. But it’s still more than I had envisaged. That brings the cost up somewhat, and then we have 20% VAT on top, bringing it much closer to the £2.40 mark.

If you think I am somehow greedy in this, consider that from that £2.40, after various taxes, monetary transfer fees and other things, I’ll be getting less than 50p per sale. From that, I need to pay expenses, rent the servers, and pay for bandwidth. When I say I’m not doing this to make a heap of money, well, this confirms it.

What I’m doing to offset the fees, for buyers.

I am a massive fan of the ‘4 pack’ buys you get from Steam, etc. I have teamed up with friends and bought for example Left 4 Dead and distributed the keys. I have decided to make pricing tiers available for Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, but I’ve been more lenient, and extended it to a volume licencing model.

Quantity: 1, each licence costs

  • USD 3.50
  • EUR 3.05
  • GBP 2.40

Quantity: 2+ , each licence costs

  • USD 3.20
  • EUR 2.85
  • GBP 2.10

Quantity: 4+ , each licence costs

  • USD 2.85
  • EUR 2.45
  • GBP 1.80

This represents a 25% saving on buying 4 or more keys at the same time, instead of four single ones. But, even buying only two will entitle you to over 10% of a discount. I am still looking over the figures, and may be able to increase the saving even more, so will update if this is the case.

Now, this doesn’t solve my VAT problem, which is why the price is still a bit higher than I wanted, but it certainly offsets the payment processor fees, and I hope it will make people buy keys in groups, or maybe even gift a second key to a friend.

I hope this explains some things.

Lastly, you will be able to purchase keys very soon – and the Single Player beta, with 24 circuits, leaderboards and achievements, is being released mid-September!

The beta will initially roll out ‘Direct from the Developer’, and be available on game distribution platforms like IndieCity and Desura in due course.

A demo is also being made available, which allows 1 day access to the first two tiers of circuits.

It’s certainly been difficult trying to sort these matters out, but hopefully the volume discounts will entice gifting of Gears of Glory: Apex Ace to more friends – that’s the idea, anyway.

Cheers,

Colin / @Domipheus

 

Lessons from exhibiting at an Indie Festival

I recently had Gears of Glory: Apex Ace playable on the floor of the Dare Indie Fest, which is the UKs largest indie games showcase. It was a great experience for me as the developer, both personally and from a development of the game standpoint. I made mistakes, but also did many things right, and it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

Right – Lighting Considerations
This is something many on the day did not prepare for. I have a poster and a large game logo board I wanted on the back ‘poster panel’ (viewable from the pics), but wanted to make sure visitors to the booth could actually see and read it, from a fair distance. I knew the event had run several times before, and last year in the same venue, so looked for photographs from the event to judge how lighting is handled. Just as well I did, as they used a lighting rig with various moving coloured lights, which when in the direction of your booth is fine, but otherwise, quite dim and nightclub worthy. Therefore I made sure to take additional lighting so brighten up key areas.

Right – Control instructions available outside of the game.
Even though I was demoing a racer, which used the standard left thumbstick and trigger buttons, visitors still kept asking as they got the controller passed to them to play. I had a queue forming, and being able to pass the controls around in a showcard form helped immensely with player throughput, especially during busy periods.

Right – Trailer / Playthrough video.
I had the game trailer on a loop in two screens either end of the booth, this was great, but late on I decided to record a play-through of the level on show – and this proved very useful. Players asking what is your best score is and then you being able to show you them how it can be played is great, and can show the depth of the gameplay. There was over 5 seconds in lap time between my best lap played at the show and the best lap of the whole festival – showing how this can be achieved is a real selling point on replayability.

Right – Swag
I designed sticker badges – it’s a time-trial racing game, so it had ‘beat my lap’ on them – and they were hot property. I made sure to give everyone a sticker who played, but also had them just laying around messily on the booth table. There is something about stickers, people love them, and I believe them to be the best return on swag investment for an indie. More on this in the budget section below.

Right – A ‘business/corporate’ oriented display
I’ve had to roll out my own OnlineServices framework for Gears Of Glory: Apex Ace. There was just nothing out there suitable, and I have been asking around other indies seeing if they would be interested in using my framework. I had a small strut card with the features of my service that differentiate it from the others available, at one side of the booth. People visiting the show from a business perspective saw it, and approached me. Don’t think because it is a consumer show that there are not business opportunities to be had!

Right – Treat the event as a playtest.
Watch everyone play as much as you can. Take notes – I had a small notebook and nearly filled it with points/issues. Usually, the points are UI/UX based – and if you are the developer, this is exactly the area of the game that usually escapes you, since you’ve been working on it so long. The feedback from this point is extremely valuable.

Right – Test your audience with price
When people asked me on price, I told people slightly different values. Nothing super different – I have a price range I know I’ll target, but this was to judge peoples reactions – and I got valuable information from it.

Right – Take Everything you can
I mean everything. I filled the largest suitcase I have with ‘stuff’. I calculated the amount of batteries I should need max, and doubled it. I had 3 different types of tape (Masking tape, standard sellotape and duct tape). I had two types of scissors. I had a whole extra pack of blu tack, Velcro sticky fixers, and glue at disposal. I brought extra white and black card too. I ended up covering the second ‘trailer’ laptop with this black card at the last minute and masking taping over the usb ports, so I did use them for things I had not prepared for the days prior.

Wrong – Not enough social media during the event
I should have been live tweeting best scores, pictures, maybe even videos. The event organiser main twitter was retweeting other studios with the hashtag, so I could have got more exposure.

Wrong – Not enough social media advertising at the event.
This one is annoying – Nowhere was the twitter account names, or the facebook page names. I had completely forgot. Many people were asking about how to keep in touch with the game, and to some of them I said twitter, but for everyone that asked me, there could have been another two that would rather have simply followed the account silently – and I lost that interest. ‘Keep up to date with X by following Y and Liking Z’ banners would have been ideal.

Wrong – Trusting my old hardware
This was done on a tight budget, and I used an old Centrino Dell laptop, which is over 8 years old. I had run it for hours in the days leading up to the event and it ran fine, but on the morning of the last day of the event the cooling fan gave up. I ended up running the laptop passive, showing the windows xp screensaver with screenshots, and looping game music. It died trying to play video after about 20 seconds, but coped with screenshots and mp3 playback – even if it did warp the plastic table it was on! The laptop could possibly have played video if I had a few of those USB fans that you can manipulate into positions – so if you have one of those, take it, just in case.

Did Wrong – Make sure you have a control system override
In the main build of the game you can play with a gamepad, but keyboard control still works. For some reason that is unknown to me now, I removed this in the days up to finishing my expo build – and this was a huge mistake. With kids – especially those with wii’s at home – they can get confused with the controls easily, even a simple racer. Being able to control with the keyboard whilst they ‘think’ they play is great for this – because it’s always better than having to take the controller off them to remedy going the wrong way, etc.

Wrong – I did not have a do not touch sign on the old trailer laptop
This was a scary incident. Even though I’d covered the laptop keyboard with card, a child still mistook the trailer playing on it for a free game spot. The kid jumped and reached across the table, pulling the laptop towards them, forcing all cables to detach from the back, and if it were not for the security cable connected to it it would have fallen off the table. Some kids get very excited, so you need to prepare for these things.

Wrong – Play length
If there is a distinct goal to your game (like in Gears of Glory – X number of laps) make sure it doesn’t take longer than 2 minutes to complete. On the first day I had 5 lap demos of a circuit I could do in 40 seconds, but a lap was averaging over a minute to the public at the time – I changed this to 3 laps after the first day, which helped immensely.

Budgets

As I stated earlier, I tried to do this on a budget. There are obvious hotel and travel costs which you just need to find a good deal with, but for kitting out the booth, here is my advice.

Print your own posters
Maybe I was just looking in the wrong place, but I found it quite hard to pay for posters. I had an A2 size logo (more on that later) and an A1 game info poster. Due to the fact I only wanted one of each, the overheads were pretty steep, and would have cost over £30 ($47) to print them onto good glossy paper. Instead, I went to the local pound discount shop and bought photo paper sheets and printed the posters at home. Amazingly, the windows 7 paint program (yes, the OS one) has support for multi-page poster printing, so just make sure the printer dpi is set super high, and the resolution of your source image is good enough. Use a Stanley knife and metal ruler to cut the white margins off. I jigsaw’d it together on the day and nobody cared about it not being 1 sheet of paper. ‘Good enough’ really is correct here. People could see it and read what was on it. Job done. Just make sure your printer ink consumption isn’t stupidly high – because then the line between the two options blur.

Booth Swag
Stickers Stickers Stickers. Seriously. Design a sticker, with a game character, logo or whatever, the website, and a tagline – for Gears of Glory: Apex Ace I had ‘Beat My Lap Time’ on it. Stickers really are the best return on investment swag. I went with Printed.com and got 500 2″ stickers for £20 pre tax/postage, and they have great templates so you don’t mess up by giving them bad art, and also – importantly – the adhesive on the stickers is good, and can be used on clothing etc. Get more than you expect to hand out, as you will want to mail them out to folk too. Ive done it a few times, each time folk have tweeted a pic of the stickers so it’s good marketing too.

Create your own showcards
Where I needed fairly simple conveying of information, for example in the controls or of some business information, I used cheap 600gsm card and just glued a strut onto it. For about £5 I created 8 displays for various things.

Big Logo
I wanted to make the game logo stand out a bit more than having it just on a poster; so I printed it out and then carefully cut around it all, and backed it onto craft foam board. I then used cheap (from the pound shop again!) ultra bright reading lights which could be placed around it to light the sign up. The result of this is that in pretty much all photos from the event (pro and by-chance delegate photos) the game logo is very visible even in the nightclub lighting of the expo hall. About £6 got me something that looked pretty good and set the booth apart.

That’s about it. I’m sure there may be something I’ve missed, but it’s quite a lot of information there already. I hope it’s useful to someone!