Kicking off 2016 with a 24h+ game development live stream

2015 has gone by and here I am engaged in a head on, eyes locked, grade a+ premium organic non-gmo, gluten free royal battle with the remaining 363 days of this year! So I decided to celebrate it by opening up my twitch stream to the public after about 1.8 years of inactivity! What’s on the menu? Unity 3D, Mono Develop (and/or sublime), royalty free music and an attempt to design and develop a Tower Defense game with an Adaptive Path for mobile devices! Since the new office is still under development (get it? I’ll show myself out) I’ll have to do some creative work from home. Asked our lovely producer for permission to stream some development and he said ok (give him a follow, just in case I screw something up)!

Those that follow me on twitter know I opened up a reddit post some time ago asking about people’s expectation from a premium mobile game. Those that don’t, read that post and then come join, bitch and yell at me via twitch.tv’s wonderful chat system. If you are interested you can follow the original post here on /r/androidgaming! Point is this may-or-may-not be one of the games I plan on making using and following the guidelines extracted from the /r/AndroidGaming Q&A session! If you were active in that thread let me know! Rest of you guys? I accept back-seat deving :)!

DETAILS:

Stream Time: Hopefully ~24hs since this post goes up! Give or take depending when the new office is done! I’ll take quite allot of breaks, but I’ll do my best to be in front of you guys constantly!

Twitch Channel: Zapaman – clicky here

Twitter Feed: @zapakitul

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SteamOS 2.55 Beta and Bound by Flame

steamos-article-bannerValve released an update for SteamOS available from the brewmaster-beta repository! Happy to confirm that the BETA update fixed most, if not all, of the issue I had with the previous 2.49 release. No more screen lockups,freezes and client crashes on the Brix Pro with Iris 5200 and, as a small bonus, the game list from the STORE finally only totally shows SteamOS games by default! In order to celebrate the update I went ahead and bought Bound by Flame, a cute looking RPG with decent requirements and full controller support. Ogh my did I get myself in a world of pain trying to play through it!

10I initially heard about Bound by Flame from Total Biscuit’s coverage of the game from way back in May 2014 and later on from Liam’s article on the game up on GamingOnLinux! I suggest checking out the article for a more in-depth look on the game. As far as the game goes, it’s a good port in terms of features, graphics, usability and control. Works well bundled with Steam Big Picture’s Mode and, as opposed to Liam’s initial experience the 360’s gamepad works right off the bat! Only downside? Performance is terrible on my Brix Pro. How terrible? Let’s say that I cannot hit 30 FPS even with all the settings set to low ( ALL OF THEM)! The game’s requirement are extremely low (Nvidia GT 8800, a card older than my drinking problems) and yet I cannot seem to hit even the bare minimum FPS for enjoyment. Since I already did a fresh install (+update to beta 2.55) I decided I can stomach another ~120 minutes of downtime so I grabbed my Win8.1 disk and installed it on the Brix! 45-50 minutes of painful restarts later (Windows install? Restart! Intel Graphics? Reboott! Audio drivers? Downtime! Wifi card? You bet!) and ~10 minutes more to download the game and I’m sitting here hitting 60 FPS without many problems on medium settings and Antia Aliasing enabled on 1080! What the loving *fluff-ball* Intel? I went ahead and enabled Debian Jessy’s experimental repository and updated xserver-xorg-video-intel to the latest version available and no changes were noticed. As of now the Driver Version that comes wth SteamOS is 3.0 Mesa 10.6.3 and I haven’t tried (nor have any knowledge on how) to upgrade to the latest Mesa Version 11.0.6. Might be a while before that hits my setup.

So if you are running SteamOS on a Brix Pro might want to hold back on Bound By Flame until better drivers hit our neck of the woods. If you can stomach 20-ish FPS then by all means go ahead and grab it! I have 97 minutes spent on the game even under those poor conditions and I like it! Might grind my way through it step by step just to experience it a bit more.

9And yes, I installed SteamOS again after trying the game on Windows 8.1.. The OS is meant for my living room even though, so far, most games I can enjoy decently are indie games or older titles! Hopefully things will pick up and I’ll be here to report on the improvements! Till next time o7!

 

Running with SteamOS and Geeking-it out in the living room

steamos-article-banner

This article reflects my opinion on the system, it’s place in (my new) living room and quite a few geek moments sprinkled here and there. For a secondary opinion check out GoL’s coverage of the system here.

I’ve been running SteamOS for the past few months and suffered through the 2.49 update head-to-head with other integrated graphics users! First time I installed SteamOS was in October on my Brix Pro system expecting a console-like experience delivered to my living room. I had the system connected to a 23” AOC Touch Screen display, a sofa moved closer to the desk, the 360 gamepad in hand and a beer at my side! I fancy myself as a GNU/Linux user (been rocking Ubuntu – and a few other Debian flavours – since 2006) so I got by most of the problems SteamOS threw my way without giving ’em too much thought but from a newcomers perspective, at this point in time, SteamOS is far from the console-like experience it promises to deliver. For once not all SteamOS/Linux-ready games RUN out of the box: Mount & Blade Warband and Shadow of Mordor were a pain in the proverbial arse with their missing libraries and launchers that failed to execute.

SteamOS Livng RoomLet’s take a step back and start with the beginning! Installing SteamOS on a new box/custom built “Steam Machine” is easier than with most OS installs nowadays (except for Windows 10, never got to try/install W10). The Installer itself is based on the Debian installer and the process is extremely streamlined. The only possible hurdle might appear if you want to customize the partitions and install it alongside other OS’s. Shouldn’t be too hard but for someone new to this I would recommend going with the default settings if you only plan on using the machine in the living room.

SteamOS GamesAs far as games go I’ve yet to see a System/Console Launch with so many titles available on day one! More than half of my library is playable from the get-go. Sadly my Steam Gamepad still hasn’t arrived and I have no plan on using a keyboard and mouse to game from the couch so my selection of games is limited to a handful! I’ve been surprised to see how well BigPicture Mode scales on my 4K display since I’ve seen a lot of complaints on the the discussion forums. The Interface has one big flaw though: as of the current version 2.49 the shop displays ALL games available on STEAM, even those for Windows. Finding a game for your platform is a nightmare! I don’t get if this is an oversight on valve’s part since the current downloadable Linux Client displays games available for Linux while hiding those that are not. Navigating through the UI is done via keyboard/mouse and/or gamepad.

Team Fortress 2 - 60h gamepadThere are some problems though: my 360 wired gamepad sometimes stops responding causing the UI to freeze and the client to reboot while other times the mouse just does not want to click on the system icons (settings, messages, downloads) on the top of the screen. It’s weird and it’s frustrating but I can live with it. What I can’t live with however is the browser packed with the platform. Valve calls it the “FPS Browser” and I have to give it to them: It does make me want to take it out the back and shoot it. Luckily enough I have a Chromecast plugged into the back of my tv so I can enjoy Youtube/Videos without having to reply on the built-in solution. Still a dedicated youtube app would be appreciated, even if it’s the standard youtube.com/tv offering with controller support added. Maybe Valve will get to it someday though I won’t be holding my breath.

Just no Valve

Now for the ugly parts: If you are running on Integrated Graphics like me (Iris Pro 5200) then you might want to stick with the 1.0 release, dubbed Alchemist. Ever since the 2.49 update for Brewmaster SteamOS is unusable on anything that isn’t nVidia (though some report no problems on a few AMD cards). Problems range from the latest MESA drivers bundled with the update to the Linux kernel. In my case it’s both. The OS refuses to boot if ANY gamepad is plugged in. The Steam client fails on launch and enters an infinite loop of crashing, trying to restart and crashing again. Unplugging the gamepad leads you to a barely usable interface that locks up on you or causes the display to go black as if the system is afraid to disappoint you. Better shutdown rather than let you see that we didn’t fix the platform bug in the store.  I don’t know why this happens but it’s a common issue, at least on Intel GPUs. And it’s mind boggling especially as the first Steam Machine Valve touted is a Brix Pro running Iris Pro 5200. Pretty sure their not lacking in the QA department so I have no idea how this escaped them. At least all Steam Machines available for purchase right now are running nVidia (to my knowledge).

Fail interface SteamOS

Going even further some games do not start altogether. You have to get access to the desktop, open up a terminal and check out why the game fails to start. In some cases it’s due to a missing BINARY for the game, like in “7 days to die”‘s case. Other times it’s due to some missing libraries (or in Mount and Blade Warband’s case – because you have a newer version of the library installed and it can’t find the old one). Again for someone with enough terminal years under his belt this is easy to fix but still requires you to plug in a mouse and keyboard, add in unofficial repositories and scour the web in search of some packages things that DO NOT CONSTITUTE a console-like experience. So let me say this – SteamOS is not a finished product! It’s for early adopters and/or people like me who refuse to buy a console and want to run linux on anything ranging from their toasters up to their tablets.  But it will get better, hopefully. Valve has a huge chance to turn things around in the PC department. It already stirred up the Linux world and brought more games to the platform than ever before! It will take time however and if I were a betting man, I’d place my money on Valve getting it right in the end. Let’s just hope the final fixes and polishes won’t have to come in SteamOS version 3, we all know how Valve’s and 3’s go together.

room

However I like SteamOS. It’s a neat little living-room system that makes the geek in me jump for joy every chance it gets. How many of you guys can SSH into your console and play tetris in the terminal? On another done I’ve been mentioning on twitter that I’m wrapping up my living room. All I’m missing is a raspberry pi zero and a new monitor so I can setup my virtual fireplace. For now that task falls on my old 23” tablet. In the future I’m hoping on using it as a Skype Machine and hang it up on a wall somewhere. Ogh and I also bought some bean bags because why not? Have a great week everyone!

 

 

 

2/2 * 2015: Beastopia, Indie Stuff and Dayjob

There’s a running gag between my twitter followers (and some co-workers/friends) that I’m a sellout for quitting the indie life ( read as “denouncing noodles and instant soup”) in favor of joining the Mobility-Games team in Iasi. But, let me ask you this: does it really count as selling out when you get to work on (this) something of your own choosing and design for  month? Sure, I was paid for it but last i checked the term “indie” meant doing what game you want while having complete control over it’s direction without a publisher pulling the strings behind the scene. The entire time spent on Bestopia was a throwback to 2012 when I was hard at work on MGL/Pimps vs Vampires, a throwback so hard my nose is still bleeding pixels left and right.

logoSo Beastopia, what the fudge is it?
To put it mildly, the brainchild of a designer, coder and a 2D artist. The initial concept was outlined in just two days over  series of debates using the Design Box methodology Talin proposed. A concept that was completely and utterly assassinated over the course of 1 month of development thanks to our “that would be awesome, lets keep it” and “did you document that? No? Think we said it should work like this….” approach. And the approach paid off in the end ( as it usually does!). When we started, the goal was to develop a Turn Based Strategy game with a Board Game influence. By the end of development we kept referring to Beastopia as an RPG… funny how this works :). I guess the initial dream most developers have was trying to creep up on us. I guess we could have called Beastopia a TBSDBGWLRPGI ( Turn Based Strategy Digital Board Game with Lite RPG influences) but that would have been silly; we went with “Beast powered board game RPG” which sounds more catchy.

gameplayNo really, what is Beastopia?
A short game with 3 game levels (boards) in which you assemble a party of 4 characters, fight beastly creatures, pickup and equip items and play card games to pass certain events. It also look like a billion dollars! As a bonus its free (as in beer), with no ads or in-app purchases and it works on any android capable toaster. So yeah, that’s Beastopia in a nut shelliowtu8fNucbN4afvSKK9GXCSIa8msKU5lsYUXE_Lk2NoD4jgMvespCGaHU0MH4tAi81z=h900

How did development go?
I can’t speak for the other two developers but from my perspective it went smooth and, mostly, on schedule. I’m extremely proud we manged to reach all our milestones and goals. And most of you know how hard that is, especially when you pitch 3 different people from different fields that never worked so closely together ( we work as part of a larger team on the company’s flagship title but that is a different shtick). You’d think finishing something on a tight schedule comes easy with so many game jams under my belt, but a 1 month project is really hard. We couldn’t just go with “hack it in – balls -to-the-wall approach” most jammers use. Due to the much larger than you average game jam time span we wanted to end up with a polished product; none of that half-arsed barely stitched together with space-tape lump of features game that 90% of appstore releases consist of.

A proud moment during development was going hands-on with unity and C# for a few days while Andrei, the programmer, was attending UNITE 2015 in Amsterdam. If you ever played MGL before and then tried Beastopia you probably noticed my trademark pathfinding behavior/implementation that relies on distance check to score tiles as opposed to the usual incrementing score approach. Someone should do a side-by-side video comparison on pathfinding from both games.

But in the end I’m extremely proud that I managed to generate some traction (marketing and articles) for the game, which now sits at around 3k downloads and 4+ score from ~200 reviews. I have to thank @Chris for being as lovely and approachable as always, and the guys from /r/android gaming for being so nice and genuinely interested in giving feedback. And of course all you twitter lovelies that keep putting up with all my shenanigans through all this years.

 

Closing words
You know, I’ve been at Mobility for a bit over one year now. Wasn’t sure I’ll make it this long, especially since f2p games aren’t my cup of tea, but it comes to show that if you take a long-haired bearded bastard, throw a bunch of lovable team mates at him and mix in industrial amount of coffee and projects like Beastopia he might just cut his hair and stick in there for the long-run, f2p or not. And all-in-all being indie means following the dream, even if that dream ends up with you working 9-to-6 in an office.

As for Beastopia, no amount of words can explain what it is and means for me. So go ahead and give it a try. It’s free and it wants feedback – heaven’s sake we welcome the opportunity of crashing our mail server with kbTons of feedback from you guys. And if you hate it feel free to call me a sellout on twitter, I’m starting to love it.

Cheers,
Zapa

P.s. Beastopia trailer

 

P.s.s I still s*#k at typing on a touch screen.

 

Rogue Sweeper – a post Global Game Jam entry release

rogue_sweeper_logo2014 has been a busy year! I moved to a new town, got back in the industry at a local company (Mobility Games) and worked my ars off on getting a good multiplayer version for Mutant Gangland. Now that 2014 came to pass I was left with 365-ish more days to look forward to. Lucky for me  2015 started out in force, as Bucharest held it’s first ever Global Game Jam. And I was there to get a piece of it’s glory!

ggj_all

GGJ2015 took place between 23 and 25th of January. It was cozy, comfy and there was a lot of coffee to go around. After 30+ hours of work I finished a small game that tried to blend a Roguelike with Minesweeper. It got voted as a runner up by the people attending. Fast forward a bit and here we are today, with me releasing the post-jam version of that game, now titled “Rogue Sweeper”. Here’s what I said about the game on itch:

RogueSweeper is a mashup between a roguelike and a minesweeper game. Tap to reveal tiles, monsters, traps or items. Tap (or click) your way to the bottom of the infinite dungeon. How far can you go?


The game has a level scaling system that requires you to manage your XP. Will you buy that health potion and lose your current level or will you risk tapping on that monster?

Stats (Str and Evasion) scale with your level. Note that you can lose your current level by spending XP in the shop. Combat happens by tapping on an enemy. Destroying a monster will award you with food and maybe a free item!


Features:

  • 5 items that can heal, feed, reveal the map and enemies and increase your stats,
  • 8 enemies
  • In-Game shop that allows you to buy items with your XP
  • Generated dungeons with items, monsters and traps
  • No end in sight! Delve deeper and deeper
  • Available for Windows and Android

You can check it out here. It’s available for Linux, Windows and Android for only 1.30€ (equivalent of a beer in Romania).

One month tablet challenge – first few days

Prologue

I moved to Iasi city a bit over two months ago and ever since I got here I saw how different the life style is from Bucharest. Iasi is situated between mountains and hills, with green lush forests and vegetation all around, lots of open space and alot of people biking all over the place. Since I arrived I wanted to take my laptop and explore the city, writing code one coffee shop at a time, but my first experienced ended with me skipping 3-4 shops that didn’t have a plug I could use.

A few months ago I stumbled upon  Henri Beirgius’s blog and noticed an interesting article about doing development on an Android Tablet which peaked my interest. The thought of being able to work from anywhere without a wall-plug nearby coupled with great portability and hardware cost is hard to ignore. Knowing that my old laptop is ready to give up at any moment I had to take a decision and so I ended up ordering a 9.75” Android Tablet and a bluetooth keyboard. And so begins my one month tablet only challenge / experiment.

As for why I would love for this experiment to work out, well here are my primary reasons:

  • to replace my old dying laptop with a more portable solution with a heftier battery life
  • to eliminate downtime’s during my work process (instant-on, full screen windows, no more 5m+ of building the android version every time I want to test on a device)
  • to establish heavier limits than usual on my design and development process in order to be able to create/design something different then my usual projects
    • as a side point, being confined within the limits of an android tablet (in terms of power, screen space, input, performance) should “train” me to optimize my code and design a more touch friendly experience

First 4 days

One of the first things I did once the keyboard arrived was to take a seat on Mobility Game’s comfy couch and access “the cloud”. I’ve already setup my home FTP and SSH server and all that was left was to create a script that would build my project and move it somewhere that I could download it from. About half an hour later I detached my tmux session, closed the lid on the tablet and left to grab something to eat in a diner not far from the office. I was anxious to get there as fast as I could so I could check on the build progress. Being able to close the tablet and not loose any progress that was happening in the background was something new for me. Sure enough once I took a seat at the table and ssh into my server I noticed a tablet_moai.apk file waiting patiently in the /home/zapa/builds folder. I started Quoda and wrote my first “hello world” on the tablet to see if my app was working properly and gleamed with excitement once it did.

The following two days were spent trying to adapt to vim and learning the key shortcuts. The biggest challenges I faced were due to the way Android handles the ESCape key (it minimizes the app that’s currently on screen) and battling with the SHIFT key position on my keyboard (kept pressing it instead of the A key). I’m also using custom vim settings that came with TerminalIDE, something that rendered most of the tutorials obsolete. I ended up using vim for a little while but decided to return to Quoda as a local IDE, while relying on Nano (with some custom .nanorc edits to enable syntax highlighting) for server-side editing (mostly java).

Yesterday however was the first time I did any real development and work on the tablet, after I left the office (’round 6:45 PM). I stopped at a local pub to grab a few beers and prepare a powerpoint presentation for DesignJam. After scribbling down a few ideas and points in writely I opened up Quoda and patched a few bugs in Mutant Gangland’s editor and then pushed the fixes to my ftp server (git integration isn’t complete on my side). I’m still amazed that I can actually get real work done on this thing with little sacrifice. My biggest problem right now is debugging since I do not have access to a console alongside my app. The way I debug at this point is via VNC to check error messages in the console or via a .txt file dump from within the app. It’s not a streamlined experience and so far it’s been the biggest hinder for my productivity. I’m planning to tackle this problem by either adding in my own “console” overlay in which I catch and print errors or b) by rooting my tablet and finding a way to execute apps via “terminal”, though the second part is still something I have yet to research. It’s a bumpy ride overall but with lots of sweets spots, great views and good “fuel consumption”.

Before I left I did one final push to the FTP and set my machine to build. I detached Tmux, packed my tablet and took a long walk home through Iasi alongside a co-worker who gladly payed for the drinks we had. Once home I launched the new build to see if it works and then I hit the sack, letting the tablet charge. I think we both needed the rest :).

The Setup

rapoo

  • A vonino Spirit QS Android Tablet
    • OS: 4.2.1
    • 2 GB Ram
    • 16gb Storage
    • Quad Core
    • 1024 x 768 resolution
  • A Rapoo Ultraslim E6300 Black Keyboard
    • Bluetooth
    • 10m connection distance
    • 1 month of battery power with only a 2h charge
    • 20 cm x 1.27 cm x 8.128 cm ( 8.1 x 0.5 x 3.2 inches for you lovely people on the other side of the ocean)
  • A 5GB monthly (grandfather) data plan from Orange
  • A HAMA tablet cover and stand 108278

Total cost? 246 euros + 25 monthly


 

The Software

  • Local development (on the tablet)
  • Cloud development (on my home server)
    • TerminalIDE: for ssh access to my home computer
      • ssh
      • tmux
      • vim
    • FTP Cafe: to upload/download new builds from my server

Total cost? 10 euros


 

The Process

From what I saw on Bergie’s post he mostly works in the cloud with little offline work, especially since he’s (from my understanding) mostly doing web development. Going for Game Dev complicates things a bit. I could have gone the C/C++ route with the amazing C4Droid (plus it’s SDL bindings) but compilation times would have nullified the experience I’m trying to achieve. So I went back in my comfort zone and built an android app using my Chaurus Framework. The app itself is nothing but a main file that searches for a folder on the /sdcard and includes “game.lua”. From there on it’s free (game), with not many things changing in my workflow. Building and debugging for Android is an entire different beast to tackle. If I want to make changes to my “main app” I have to ssh over to my server, vim my way through the project’s source, build and then download the app via FTP. Luckily wifi is abundant in my country (and all through-out Europe) and, just in case, I can fall back to my 4G data plan.

Total cost? Building MOAI for Android + 0.01c monthly


 

 

Looking back on 2013 and plans for 2014

So I’m officially 1 year in as a wanna-be Indie Developer (since I have yet to release my game). It’s a tough ride governed by many decisions and mistakes. I’d like to take the time and share my experience after this first year. Hopefully it will be useful for people starting out or a good read for those without content to consume after the New Year’s party.

Going Indie

Doesn’t seem like a hard thing. To be honest, it looks allot like pledging to participate in a ludumdare event. No formalities, no signatures, no contracts and NDA’s. For me it’s more like a state of mind which translates to “Now I can be in full control of my projects and do what I want”. Another way to put it would be like having a cigarette smoker (like myself) saying “Today, I will quit smoking”. It’s easy to say, easy to get into that mental state but it’s hard to keep at it. Most people advice to not take the plunge until you have enough money to sustain yourself for at least 1 year. I think that’s a good, sane idea. I did not listen to it but that’s because I took another approach.

Moving back to my hometown

Sometime in December 2012 I moved back to my hometown after quitting my job at @Gameloft. My mother’s illness really progressed and I was expecting the worse. I proceeded to finish my last year of University/College by commuting to Bucharest almost daily. Thankfully things have gotten better for her since then but she’s not out of the woods. After I finished college I was faced with a huge problem: My funds we’re bellow 0, commuting daily burning all my savings and my folks we’re in the same boat. I couldn’t afford to move back to Bucharest and search for a job (renting an apartment there is expensive for Romanian Standards and you have to pay at least two months in advance) so I decided to make the best of it.

The bright side of things

The idea was to try out the indie life, make a game, release it and see if I can in any way afford to live off of it. My goal was simple: Make enough money from my first release in order to afford to buy a pack of cigars daily for one month, and two beers each weekend. The total sum amounts to: 105 euros. If I could reach this goal then there might by a chance of being able to turn this into a viable business.

By moving back home I don’t have to worry about paying rent each month, nor having to buy food or pay for transportation, which allowed me to focus on one project full time with no other distractions. Living in Romania also provides a huge advantage as, compared to other countries, the cost of living is relatively small and I can get away with earnings that otherwise would be considered less than sufficient in other places.

The project – Mutant Gangland –

Last July I took part in the Mini-LD hosted by @sorceress, #7DRTS challenge. I wanted to go head to heads with a friend of mine and ex co-worker @Radu Chivu. In the end we both took part but only for two days. I ended up with a messy and sluggy tbs which I dubbed Mini Wars. I was heavily disappointed in my creation and set up to remake it (more details on that here). First rule of order was to fix the broken pathfinding implementation I used and design a proper AI.

With a bit of luck I manage to get @Thomas Nopper’s attention and enlist him to help me out with the graphical assets of the game. Over the course of 6 months Thomas waved (and keeps on waving) his magic wand at the screen and kept on producing new graphics and sprites for the game, while I kept tuning, balancing and polishing the game. Looking back on it, things have changed quite a bit:

mutant_gangland_evolution
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