A change

So…  all previous posts have really been about me making some games in my spare time. There have been no real updates in a very long time, and thats because basically: the game failed massively.

I’d have hoped there would be enough sales to pay for the web hosting for leaderboards, replays, and the SSL certificate. Over a year I couldn’t even pay for the SSL certificate! So yeah, it really didn’t work. So instead, i’m simply going to use this to post things that interest me, current projects, etc. It’s quite a change, as I’m not going to start with software, which is what I’ve been doing for a very long time.

Also, I’m not paying much attention to the quality of posts, more making sure the content is interesting. Hopefully, that is.

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

 

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace status update

Hi folks, Colin / @domipheus here.

It’s been quite a hectic couple of months. As you will have seen, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace is not available – even though it’s July, and the releases all said coming May 2012.

Well, to put it bluntly, I screwed up on the timing. I’ve certainly learned something from this experience, in that it seems journalists don’t seem too bothered by launch dates. This is the opposite of what I expected – I thought having a launch date would give some credibility to Domipheus Labs as an unknown entity for journalists to draw on when trying to get some press coverage. Turns out if you have an interesting story to tell, they will cover it regardless.

I’ve had less free time to work on the game lately – mainly due to becoming a dad for the first time. This is one of the reasons I don’t like the ‘indie’ label – I am very much a hobby developer, who takes his work seriously. I have not quit my day job in search of some far-fetched indie bliss.

The new plan stretches out the release, but I think it offers the best chance available to make Gears of Glory: Apex Ace a game I can be proud of.

Domipheus Labs Online Services

Previously, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace was an IndieCity only title, using its fabulous game framework. They offer an amazing percentage of the cost price (85% to the developer if they integrate leaderboards/achievements). However, for me, I needed more fine grained control of the leaderboards. Like in my Leaderboard Ordering post, I wanted ordering control, and other smaller things I may talk about in later posts.

In addition to this, it quickly became clear that I was going to need to roll out distinct game versions for each distributor I was looking at, and that these would then have disjoint leaderboards. For the amount of units I intend to ship, I really do not want a fragmented userbase.

So, Domipheus Labs Online Services was born.

Online Services, for the lack of a better name at the moment, is a fully-fledged RESTful web service for game licence checking, leaderboards and achievements. I did look for available 3rd party platforms, but most did not cater for small ‘indie’ player sets, or looked as though they were awash with too many features. Still my leaderboard ordering problem was left unfixed, despite them offering way more more in terms of features.

With Domipheus Labs Online Services, Gears of Glory: Apex Ace will ship on far more distribution platforms than before – and the playerbase will remain one, single universe with everyone connected into the same world and championship standings.

Also, as a developer, the cost of developing the Online Services component was far cheaper than having many different builds of the game for the various distribution channels, and having to test and support each one. For me, it’s a win-win.

There are greater things destined for the Online Services platform in due course. The user management, and licensing aspects of the service are incredibly valuable to indies which are often overlooked by the larger ‘Game Service’ providers as being too small. I have spoken to some indies personally and they have expressed an interest in learning more about the service and how it can help them. If you are interested in learning more, get in contact.

So, Domipheus Labs Online Services will launch alongside Gears of Glory: Apex Ace, and power all of the games online features, including user licensing, management, analytics, leaderboards and achievements. It is expected to be opened up to other indies in due course, with a range of affordable pricing options, from free up to a few coffees a month.

Open beta releases

Back to the main Gears of Glory: Apex Ace release schedule. It’s now moved from a fixed release date, to having no release date with features being rolled into several beta releases.

Release One will feature the Season Circuits. These are racetracks which ship with the game, and each one has a global leaderboard in which player standings are calculated, and challenges sought. Leaderboards contain not only the lap time of the entry, but are tagged with the actual recording of that players lap. So whilst the game is Single Player at this point, you will be racing ‘against’ other players in the game world.

Release Two will feature the Track Builder. The track builder is pretty much feature complete in terms of how it fits into the game, however, the facilities to share these tracks with people do not exist at present. This will be discussed and developed into a ‘shopfront’ of the most popular user tracks, with people being able to publish creations to it. At the moment there are no plans for this to come with In App Purchasing.

Release Three will feature Multiplayer. Multiplayer has been a real struggle to implement, not because of the engine or actual game mechanics, but because of the way in which the internet works now with everyone behind routers. For a game to really be multiplayer, we need master lobby and NAT introduction servers, and this is something again Domipheus Labs Online Services may help with. I have always said I don’t want users to need to go and open router network ports, which seems to be what most smaller indie developers do. This really is not a good user experience, especially in a pick-up-and-play title like Gears of Glory: Apex Ace.

Release Four will be the full, non-beta, release. The beta releases will all be priced cheaply, with the purchase of a user license granting access to all future beta and main releases of the game. After Release Four the price of the game will increase to reflect it’s complete state.

At the moment, I am gearing up Release One to happen in late August.

I really hope this has cleared up the state of development currently. I know it’s been very quiet lately. But development is going full throttle. The game is currently playing nicely – as long as you like technical racers, that is!

Lastly, Launch Platforms.

Gears of Glory: Apex Ace will become available on the following platforms:

  • IndieCity
  • Desura
  • Indievania
  • Direct from Developer
  • Steam Greenlight

This has been a very long post, so finally – please tell your race fanatic friends about the game. The game needs an active leaderboard community to be fun. You can keep up to date at by liking the facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/gearsofglory.

Thanks for reading, you will all get the chance to play the game soon!

Colin