May 27th, 2013 by Paul
Frozen Endzone (PC, Mac, Linux)
This is a brand new tactical future-sports game! See the official site for more info. Our anticipated launch date is sometime in 2014, with a pre-order beta coming earlier.
Frozen Synapse (iPad)
This has been released on the App Store! We are working on updates and improving the server.
Frozen Synapse (Android / iPhone / Other mobile devices)
Frozen Synapse Android Beta is now live in the Humble Bundle! The full version will be released really soon.
We are considering bringing the game to phones.
Frozen Synapse: Tactics (PS Vita, PS3)
This is a complete graphical overhaul of the game, which retains the same core gameplay as the desktop versions. It’s being handled 100% by our amazing development partners Double Eleven.
Check on their Twitter for updates.
A store for the very best of chiptune music. Check it out!
June 18th, 2013 by Paul
Frozen Synapse Android has launched in very very late beta form in the latest Humble Bundle.
Grab it now, pay what you want, get the full version on release soon!
May 27th, 2013 by Paul
The New Indie PR
When we started Mode 7, the idea of a PR strategy was a bit silly: nobody cared about indies and what they had to say, so the objective was just to constantly shout as loud as possible about anything.
It’s a new era now: indies are getting interviewed and asked to comment on gaming news stories with great regularity at the moment; this is a great thing! We often don’t have the PR filters and constraints of those in larger companies, so we’re able to speak our minds more and get people to pay more attention to our games.
In this post, I’ll be talking through:
- Thoughts on making statements and giving interviews
- Releasing game content
- General philosophical stuff
Talking about THINGS
Also, a lot of us know journalists personally and are happy chatting off-the-record about stuff; this is almost always completely respected by the press, as it’s vital to keep everything flowing…not to mention basic personal courtesy. Sometimes, however, that respect isn’t there: choosing your friends wisely is important.
When on the record, however, I think it’s sometimes easy to fall into the mode of chatting and forget a few of the inevitable things that will happen when your words are published. For the purposes of illustration, I shall be using the fictitious GameHerbert console and GameHerbert Industries.
“Wait…wait…indies should just say stuff, right?” OR “Everybody knows this stuff: shut up”
Two points before I start:
1.) I am not here to tell anyone what I think they should say, the topics they should talk about or anything like that. You can do what you want and you absolutely should express your own personality. What I am attempting to do is discuss the reactions that should be expected when certain things happen in public.
2.) One thing I’ve learned is that people vary massively in their intuitive understanding of these processes. To some, everything I say will seem blindingly obvious, but to others it might be the first time they’ve thought about any of this in detail. Maybe you are working on a project but have never released any info about it or been interviewed yet: this might be useful to you.
- Anything controversial you say will be foregrounded, even if you say it as an aside and it is not directly relevant to you
Let’s say I do an interview about Frozen Endzone and, in passing at the end, I say, “Oh, it’ll never come out on GameHerbert: it’s pretty hard to develop for as well, so we probably don’t have time.”
If I’m not expecting the headline to be “Indie developer says it’s too hard to make games for GameHerbert!”, I am fundamentally misunderstanding the press.
“They based the whole interview on this one thing I said at the end!” I might complain, but actually…why wouldn’t they do that? Why was I expecting them to do something else?
Obviously journalists are trying to get people to read your interview. Virtually any indie, with the exception of perhaps Notch or someone like Jonathan Blow, isn’t news in their own right: what you say is going to be the only draw in the interview. If you say something even slightly interesting about GameHerbert, which is inevitably more famous than anything you are working on, that will be the headline.
Why do the press leap on this so much? It’s mostly because experienced devs will furiously no-comment anything that isn’t about their specific game…for the above reason!
By the way, you are allowed to, literally, say “No comment” until a question goes away. You might feel stupid doing it the first time, but you are allowed to do it. I have heard people say, “But they just kept asking me a question so eventually I felt like I had to say something.”
Am I saying that indies should “no comment” more? Absolutely not. I’m saying that they can if they want to.
- Any clarification or modulation of a controversial point will be removed or buried
This is important – but hard- to remember.
Here is a transcript from a fictitious interview:
“GameHerbert’s a good console: it’s got the built-in USB fan, the light-up monkey control, the retractable wheels. But, I mean, it does look like a mottled brick with a turd coming out of it, right? [Everyone has a good old laugh]. Having said that, sometimes I’d put my GameHerbert in my bag just because I want to play Super Rowing Boat Madness GT on the way to work, so it’s a really solid product that has a lot of good sides. And honestly, I think it looks ok.”
I’ve just given the quote: “[GameHerbert] looks like a mottled brick with a turd coming out of it”. That’s a pretty good quote, so if I’m not expecting it to be a pull-quote…I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Any journalist in the world, friendly or no, is going to jump on that. Secondly, what they might do is just not quote the sentence which starts with “Having said that…”. They might put in the generic stuff about GameHerbert being a good console in the body of the piece, in order to represent what you said in an appropriate context, but…
1.) Pull-quotes don’t have context
2.) Nobody cares about generic preambles or postscripts to bombshells anyway
I’m not being critical of journalists by the way: this is how news works and that is something that everyone needs to accept. We need short, digestible, quirky or interesting hooks to make us read something; it’s that simple.
I’m also not being critical of bombshell-prone developers either: as I’ll discuss later, sometimes things need to happen to make the extent of an issue clear enough for the wider community to understand. Also, we occasionally need a good bombshell to bring an issue to the forefront; some people have to be pioneers in discussing issues and take a bit of flak for it. The benefit they get (“This is someone who speaks their mind!”) can sometimes outweigh other consequences.
Dropping the bomb
The first time I spoke in public about games, I was on a panel with the ebullient and brilliant Jason Wonacott. He gave me a great piece of public speaking advice; I think it can be applied to interviews as well. Here it is:
“Think about what you want to convey and then come up with a really interesting way of saying it. Make sure it’s short. When it comes time to say it, pause slightly before, say it, and then shut the hell up. You will almost always get quoted on it.”
You don’t even have to go that far: just simply coming up with a relatively eloquent way of saying what you want to say in advance can be massively helpful, for both you and the journalist.
We’re now in a culture where the net output of words and (yes I’m going to use that horrible word) “content” from indie developers is increasing.
We’re all at a very crowded party, so we have to speak more in order to get people to pay attention to us. Again, this is great: I want to hear more from the people who are doing things which interest me. Sometimes this is massively helpful: look at this great post about Fingle’s sales figures; that’s going to benefit a lot of developers as well as being interesting to a slightly more general audience.
One of the most important things to do on Twitter is post a lot; it doesn’t especially matter if your posts are boring. Similarly Facebook. I read a blog post by famous game streamer Destiny about how he established an audience…shock horror, it was all about doing things regularly.
Personality is important as well: people quote Jon Blow or Phil Fish a lot because they say out-there things which seem incredibly inflammatory. This almost certainly has a net positive impact for them: being infamous certainly hasn’t caused them any problems so far.
Also, sometimes it takes personal experience to give you a good understand of how things really work.
Last year, I changed the ending to Frozen Synapse for a limited period because I became fascinated by the idea of changing the end of a game’s story. I mentioned it on Twitter and a few people encouraged me to do it, so I went ahead. The action generated a fair amount of publicity, and I wrote up the process and the responses to it here.
The inspiration behind this was the fan outcry to the ending of Mass Effect 3, but I had no intention of commenting on the rights or wrongs of that situation.
I was thinking about:
- The relationship fans have to an ending, especially in a game where very few people have actually seen an ending
- The idea of a creator vandalising his own work; I parodied my own ending, which I had never been entirely happy with
- The lack of comment on Frozen Synapse’s ending, which I thought would be quite inflammatory when writing it
Instead of anyone paying any attention to that, I was met with an amazing barrage of anger from Mass Effect fans. It was difficult for me to understand the points they were trying to make, but they mostly revolved around being certain that I was either heavily supporting or heavily criticising Bioware. I did a quick tally of the “pro” and “anti” Bioware responses and they came out roughly 50:50.
Ian told me recently that I had made “a massive misjudgment”, which was definitely true; I had no idea that taking inspiration from a popular issue would incite people to emphatically believe that I was making a moral judgement about it.
I’ve still never played Mass Effect 3 and don’t know all that much about the ending change beyond the fact that it was rumoured to be happening at one point: I wasn’t really interested in it.
I got significant personal hate mail for the first time in my life, much of which I documented in the post: I was told to “eat a dick”; people wished bankruptcy upon me; people insulted my writing; people told me that this represented hatred towards my own customers; people told me that I was a “fucking moron” and that I was being culturally elitist.
I think I learned a few things from the experience:
- Emotion FIRST
As I get a little tiny bit more mature, I think the most important thing about how we communicate is the emotion we incite in someone else. I talked to Nicholas Lovell on Twitter recently about a trait we both share: we argue a point incredibly strongly and dogmatically to incite counter-arguments; if the counter-arguments are good we think about them for a while and then back down if we were wrong.
This can work in certain contexts, but it’s often terrible communication; it just pisses people off. Also, you can hold on to a point too long way past the time when you have obviously been proved wrong, and this is just bad behaviour. I’d often struggle to see why people become defensive, irritated or upset by the way I was arguing – “if they were right then they’d just be able to prove me wrong; why are they upset – don’t they believe in their own points?”
Being right or clever often isn’t important relative to how you are communicating your points.
- Ad hominem
My changed ending made people angry; so they immediately became angry with me; they tried to say things that would deliberately hurt me. I was very lucky that none of the comments personally upset me in any way; I can imagine someone in an analogous situation being put into a pretty bad state by that level of negative attention. This is why we see so much crazy personalised hatred online: something pushes someone’s button and they go into ATTACK MODE. They don’t attack the content because EMOTION FIRST: they are barely aware of the content. They attack the person because it’s the most direct thing they can do to avoid engaging with the argument. Most people are terrified of being wrong; this dodges that completely.
- There is no context
Of all the things that surprised me most (and I now consider that response pretty naive) was the lack of contextual awareness that people displayed. Nobody saw the new ending in the context of the original one; I was basically TOLD that I was making a comment on something, and that interpretation had to be the exclusive one; I suppose the author really is dead…poor author.
Why am I banging on about this so much? One major reason:
Control isn’t everything
I don’t really feel like it was a mistake to do it; while we received vocal negative attention, I feel like most people were aware that it was unreasonable and also about a relatively trivial topic (I mean “narrative” not “Mass Effect 3″ before anyone starts up in the comments!) in the grand scheme of things. If this had been about a more socially inflammatory issue, I think I would still be receiving internet hatred daggers to this day, despite not making any kind of emphatic statement about anything. The reality of this is shocking.
Struggling to stay in control of your “message” too much will stop you doing anything at all. When we started Mode 7, our policy was basically “say anything”; we then swung towards caution as soon as we realised the impact our words could have. When one of your tweets shows up as a Eurogamer headline, you really start paying attention to hitting that little blue button in Tweetdeck. I think this is a step too far; I think I have worried too much about entering conversations.
So, I want to see if it’s possible to be more open while still being aware of some of the issues I raised earlier. Evolving how you talk in public is a subset of evolving how you relate to other people; I think this should be a life-long process and something which everyone takes seriously.
Sometimes, everyone will get it massively wrong : I’m certain I will do this personally at some point. That’s just par for the course: if you have sane expectations of how people will react to you, your ability to express yourself properly should increase rather than being subject to a fear of doing something wrong.
May 23rd, 2013 by Ian
Over the past six months we’ve been developing a brand new server. Our old one was slow and required sharding and made things such as the two-week timeout very difficult.
We moved to our new server shortly before the iPad launch, and have been working around the clock to fix issues which have arisen from that. I was hoping for our first launch with zero server issues but we didn’t achieve that, and I’m really sorry about that.
Every day we’ve put up patches which have improved things, and I’m hoping that by the end of this week you guys will not be having any problems at all.
We will then immediately activate the two-week timeout. I’m sorry that our communication hasn’t been better on this – problems with our servers has made it difficult for us to sort this out well enough in the past, and I’m aware that it’s a source of massive frustration for our most dedicated players. You have my word that we will be fixing this issue this month, and that we will continue to do our best to deal better with people who do not finish their games.
Thanks for the support and the patience,
May 18th, 2013 by Paul
Interim server solution will be up soon and we’ll return to the main issue tomorrow – sorry for this idiocy
May 18th, 2013 by Paul
The server needs to go down for a few hours while we fix a problem – really sorry – we tried very hard to avoid this. It will be back up ASAP.
May 17th, 2013 by Paul
The inimitable Nicholas Lovell over at Gamesbrief has cast Frozen Synapse front-and-centre in the interminable debate between paid and F2P.
Check out his “Why I haven’t bought Frozen Synapse on the iPad for £4.99 yet”.
I think this pretty much sums it up:
I had to put more “risk” into the decision to download a paid game than a free game. I will feel more stupid if I don’t enjoy it than if the only cost to me was some all-you-can-eat bandwidth on my wifi.
Basically, his point is that it’s harder (for him) to make the choice to try a paid game than it is to try a free game.
Now, everyone loves bullet points, so here are some:
- It’s a personal article about someone’s own preference and how that relates to a wider theme; it’s hyperbolic…because it’s written by Nicholas Lovell! I’ll be responding in a similar way
- This isn’t really about Frozen Synapse, as Nicholas told me.
- We get on well and I’ve written for Gamesbrief before: this isn’t personal, so be nice if you comment or respond to him
Let’s talk about me now:
I find it harder to try a free-to-play game than I do to buy a paid one. Here’s why:
1. Most free-to-play games are still terrible
I constantly see free-to-play proponents claiming this isn’t the case (Nicholas is doing it on Twitter right now!) but it’s still true for a certain audience. And it’s not just the stereotypical “core” or “indie” audience who feel this way.
“No!” they will say. ”Have you tried [terrible core game]?” It’s always an embarrassing conversation.
This is changing, but very very slowly: the prejudices are still valid.
Back to me again. I like:
- Immersion which isn’t broken by payment prompts
- Thoughtful narrative (in single player)
- Exceptional aesthetics
- Skill-based gameplay and a complex multi-player meta-game (in multiplayer)
Many, many free-to-play games are designed for people who don’t give two hoots about all of that stuff and like putting things in lines, flicking little men inside buggies, or buying the shiniest gun with the best numbers next to it. I still expect most free-to-play games I try to be terrible and I’m not often wrong.
Of course, it’s fine for things to be terrible, and such things often do well commerically. Here’s Pitbull and Christina Aguilera to explain further:
Is this a snobby, elitist, smug opinion? Definitely. Show me a single person who isn’t smug, snobby and elitist about their own taste. I’m sure there are people who love that song, and that’s fine. I…kind of love it. Because it is terrible.
THIS IS DIGRESSION
2. The ones that are not terrible make me dread their monetisation, fear for their future or write them off as an anomaly
I think this is a more interesting point.
I’ve played some League of Legends: it’s definitely a fun game with a rich multiplayer meta-game, although it’s not really my thing. I don’t want to get to the point where I feel compelled to buy champions…that just doesn’t appeal to me. I want to pay and forget that I’ve paid, not keep reaching for my wallet from time to time. That, coupled with the crazy impenetrable maximalism of the rune system, and the fact that I don’t enjoy watching it streamed made me stop playing.
Obviously aesthetic-only microtransactions avoid this problem.
However, I don’t really think that small indie developers can take many meaningful lessons from either DOTA2 or Team Fortress 2…aside from “people actually do like aesthetic microtransactions in big communities”. I believe free-to-play in core games works at a massive scale with a well known franchise; if you’re at the stage where you can viably consider it you’re probably doing pretty well for yourself anyway. If we considered doing a free-to-play game in future, it’d probably be aesthetic-only and we’d be aiming for a huge audience.
So, I have “wallet dread”: I know that there will be some reason to keep me paying regularly while I’m playing and I just don’t want that. It makes me concerned about the design of the game and often not even bother to try it.
When a free-to-play game doesn’t induce that feeling in me, I have concerns about its future. There’s very little data available from devs about this still at the moment, so it’s hard to know whether that instinct is right or not.
By the way, if you’re a smaller developer making core F2P games, please release some data. You’ll get a massive amount of press and it will help a lot of us to understand these things more.
I don’t think I’m alone with my wallet dread: a lot of people value their time more than they value money. They want to pay to experience an unusual, unique game design that won’t harass them with tiny charges later on. The game is up now: people understand that “free” doesn’t really exist.
Here’s another thing: sometimes I don’t want to be “retained”. Designing for retention isn’t the Holy Grail: sometimes something is really fun for a short period of time, then not fun any more. I found this with Chivalry: I’m still glad I paid for it, but I probably won’t play it again. That sort of game is valid, both creatively and commercially: it can’t be free-to-play.
Frozen Synapse is doing well on the App Store: it’s hit the benchmark that we wanted it to hit.
Nicholas said this wasn’t about Frozen Synapse but, of course, it sort of is. I’ve said this many times before: if there was a way of making Frozen Synapse F2P in a way which wouldn’t compromise its design, we would think seriously about doing it.
There genuinely isn’t: it’s not possible. It wouldn’t be Frozen Synapse if you started to do any of the things to it which would make for a successful free-to-play game.
For that reason, I’m glad Nicholas hasn’t bought it. If the relationship you want with creators is that of being gently cajoled into paying while maintaining the illusion that you’re getting something for free, we’re not going to do that for you. We’re going to say: “Look, here is something which we spent four years making that has a massive scope. You can read what people say about it, watch videos of it, read user reviews, talk to members of the community and make one decision about its worth to you.”
We are being straight-up with you; that allows us to be straight-up in our design. Frozen Synapse was supposed to be a clear, simple tactical game which allowed the user to do anything they wanted: that wasn’t perfectly achieved but that was the original motivation.
You don’t have to puzzle out just how we’re going to extract the next $2 from you: we made a deal and we’ll stick to it. This isn’t the way to make the most money possible from a game, but it’s what we wanted to do.
In addition, once you’ve bought the game, if you like it and you want to spend more money on it, you can! There’s a whole Red expansion pack to buy (coming soon to iPad by the way!). This is completely optional: there is a huge amount to enjoy in the game without it. I have no problem with games allowing their audience to pay more to get more stuff, by the way: I do think indies should take this into consideration more as well.
Finally, FS is a niche game, so it’s more expensive than some other games on the App Store: that’s how niches work, you often pay a little bit more for something that appeals more directly to you personally.
I’m sick of people telling me it “should” be free-to-play: I feel like this opinion is as daft as telling me to put a banging donk on it.
Where am I going with this?
We will never, ever make a game where the payment model constrains the design. If a design fits into free-to-play then we would definitely consider using it, but it’s not ever going to be an a priori creative limitation for us. There will be no donks.
Every payment model has its disadvantages: pay-once can put some people off. It’s hard to get the price right, and sometimes people aren’t able to try a game in a low-pressure way.
Design comes first for us: that’s why Frozen Synapse costs money.
May 15th, 2013 by Paul
Ian wrote a great post that you should read: do that and come back.
As I write this, you can currently buy Frozen Synapse on the App Store in New Zealand. At midnight in every “territory”, the game will become available.
We can’t see any sales stats yet, so we’re in total limbo.
We started making indie games in a bedroom with a volunteer team of comprised of our friends; now we’re taking a game multi-platform, working on a new title with ex-AAA artists and dealing with a sizeable community. We’ve swapped from full-on hapless underdogs to something of an established developer (in indie circles at least) almost overnight.
This transition is going to happen to a lot of people soon. It’s weird, difficult and it needs different skills from the semi-skills you started out with. I’m someone that wants to find the “right” way of doing everything, and get the maximum out of all of our efforts: both of those things are impossible, so I often don’t have a particularly easy time reconciling my motivations with reality. I’m trying to get better at that.
The iPad version of Frozen Synapse is a massive turning point for us. If our games work in different contexts, that means that we have access to a much greater scope than we ever imagined sitting in that bedroom.
I find launching things unbelievably stressful and difficult, so I am going to soothe myself with nostalgia. One of the main reasons I am doing this is to have weird experiences and share them with people I like.
I talked to Mike Bithell about this recently, as he is also having amazing experiences as his game becomes well-known. We thought that a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily get the significance of some of these personal moments (or might just consider them self-indulgent bollocks) but actually I think I’ll share some in case these are of interest to anyone.
So, with that in mind, here are a few highs and lows:
Meeting Kieron Gillen in a pub
Yes, I’m sure other journalists (and Kieron) will laugh about this one but this was one of the first significant things that happened to us which differentiated us from other people just sitting in a house making something. In what seems like a different era, Kieron wrote How to Use and Abuse the Games Press and we decided to call him on it by inviting him to meet up. Talking to someone whose writing you read a lot growing up about existentialist Manic Miner (I think) mods was an interesting experience! Kieron was awesome and prepared us for a life of meeting games journalists in pubs.
There was a nice synergy when, many years later, we showed Kieron the beta of Frozen Synapse, also in a pub. Themes develop.
Going to PC Gamer
Via Kieron, we ended up taking our first game Determinance to PC Gamer’s office in Bath. Then-editor Ross Atherton congratulated us on having “the balls to come down here” which, now I think about it, sounds immensely confrontational but was actually meant in a spirit of encouragement. We met a lot of other journalists and had a great time playing the game with them, even though there was clearly (and justifiably) some bemusement about the flying sword-fighting involved. It was a weird game…I still have a soft-spot for it.
I remember meeting the brilliant Richard Cobbett for the first time, who was roused by Ross from his hidey-hole somewhere in the depths of PC Plus and getting a brief chance to chat adventure games with him.
Not getting Steam distribution for Determinance
This was a turning point at the time because it was literally all we wanted, and we couldn’t have it. It was a big blow and difficult to deal with, but it really pushed us to try and make a good game next time. It was ultimately a good thing and we’re delighted to have a game on Steam plus the anticipation of bringing Frozen Endzone there.
Gamecity and Frozen Synapse
The first time I went to Gamecity we hadn’t even finished Determinance. I ended up speaking at their very first event and shouting at an inexplicably full room of people about La La Land 2, a game which still doesn’t get enough attention. I have no idea why anyone listened to me; I found it pretty bizarre that I ended up in a room with a BBFC examiner, Rob Yescombe, Margaret Robertson and a host of other games luminaries of the time. I’ve been to every Gamecity to date and I will continue to do this forever: it is amazing.
Another of my important Gamecity memories is drawing a willy on a pudding (context: we were supposed to draw things on our puddings), looking over and seeing that Andrew John Smith, who I had met about twenty minutes before, had also drawn a willy on his. I feel…somehow…that this is important.
Where was I going with this? Oh yes, we took Frozen Synapse to Gamecity and forced the general public to play it in a tent. Some of them stay for FOUR HOURS. My vestigial doubts about the game were completely destroyed by witnessing this. It was astonishing.
Frozen Synapse Launches
The various launches associated with Frozen Synapse were all gigantically stressful. It’s weird to say but getting something on sale that suddenly gets a huge amount of attention isn’t especially enjoyable at the time: of course it’s MUCH better in every way than dealing with a failure, but equally it’s like millions of people all looking through your window at the same time. The good stuff comes later.
I can only imagine what Notch felt when Minecraft started blowing up: I presume it’s the same careering-down-a-hill-on-a-unicycle sensation but multiplied many times.
When we realised that Frozen Synapse was doing well, when the reviews started coming in like the 9/10′s from Eurogamer and Edge, it changed everything. We had a future, we could make games for a living: suddenly everything made sense and we weren’t doing something that people thought was crazy any more. That’s incontrovertibly good, but obviously it was a big change, as I mentioned earlier.
Writing for Penny Arcade
Back even before Determinance, when my only interaction with the games industry was working in a shop, everyone there told me that I had to read Penny Arcade. I started, but I knew so little about games that I didn’t understand the jokes. I loved Tycho’s writing though, and so I stuck with the site.
I had a very difficult period in my life a few years later, and I remember reading PA a lot during that time and looking forward to every update as a distraction. I’ve always appreciated Tycho’s preposterous verbal gyrations that somehow are also simultaneously self-deprecating.
That’s why getting a mail from the man himself asking if I would like to write for the site was mindblowing. I covered that experience in the piece. Sitting in the sunshine in my garden working on drafts for that was totally thrilling.
Winning the IGF Audience Award
This was huge for us and I wanted everyone to experience what it was like, as this was a massive “thank you” from the community. I got to meet legendary game designers like Warren Spector, Mark Cerny, Ed Logg and Dave Theurer: it was unforgettable. Seeing Ian, who I obviously think is a phenomenal game designer, in that company as well was cool for me.
Every time someone says something nice about my music
I always thought that working with Ian would be more rewarding than working on my own: this is one of the things I’ve been most right about in my entire life. Before Mode 7, part of me wanted to go and be a musician on my own but ultimately I thought life would be better working in games and putting my music in the context of some of the awesome stuff that Ian can do. So, any time someone directly says, “The soundtrack was awesome” or anything along those lines, I feel completely happy with what I’ve done in my career so far. I love the fact that the most significant music I’ve made by a long way is ALSO part of this game we slaved over together, that people know and like; it’s so motivating to go on and do more things.
I’ve even been able to do some of my own musical projects under the Mode 7 banner (namely _ensnare_) and that is going to a continue for a long time. I want to do a standalone nervous_testpilot album at some point, but honestly there is so much music going into Endzone that I won’t have any left for that! I’m going to up my game next time and try and do justice to the number of amazing comments, tweets and emails I get every week about my music. Thank you.
We do try to keep up with things the community wants / needs and we sometimes haven’t done the right things. That’s basically caused by not being great at prioritising resources in a small team, something which I plan to improve as we go along. Every time someone has an issue with the game, I think about it a lot and try to get it fixed: that’s not hyperbole.
Frozen Endzone is a really exciting game to work on. We have just started playing the game in the office for the first time and I think Ian’s design is brilliant: it’s tactical and precise but creative and fun at the same time. There’s a lot of reading your opponent and a lot of puzzling out interesting situations. The artists we’re working with are very talented (and also happen to be my friends) so we have a strong team. We’ll be getting into fleshing out the game very soon – Ian is sitting behind me working on AI for the single player right now – this is always a meaty and satisfying stage of development where your input has real efficacy.
We do get asked for advice a lot, as do other indie devs. I’ve written a massive post which I think has useful information for completely new people. We really honestly don’t know what we’re doing in the grand scheme of things, and I doubt anyone else does either, but in any case here are some general ideas:
- Make things you want to play; believe in your own instincts on this
- Learn how to make those things properly
- Be honest about how good you think your things are; compare them to other things in as brutally objective a way as you can manage
- Listen to what people say, but not too much and not at the expense of executing your ideas
- Try not to be a dick to anyone you work with; patch things up if you fail at this
- Talk to your friends and family a lot and don’t lose track of them when you’re working hard
- In fact, listen to a lot of people in general, learn how to filter what they say properly
- Talk about your own work a massive amount even if it bores people – it’s so incredibly hard to get attention now that talking a lot is pretty much the only way
- Definitely keep going if you have a failure, even a big one
Mode 7 was always about trying to make interesting, unusual games and I think we’re sticking to our guns. If Frozen Synapse iPad, Android, Vita and PS3 do well, you can expect to see Endzone on a host of systems as well.
When we started, we used to be a lot more public about what we were doing. I want to bring that back a bit and make this interesting part of the dev process on Endzone a bit more open: we’ll see if I can achieve that.
I’m going to go back to waiting for the fallout from this launch now. Do pick up FS iPad if you want to make my day: I’ll see you on the other side.
Before you ask, the Android version is coming later this month.
Follow me on twitter – I’m @mode7games.
I’ll be putting more videos on YouTube soon -http://www.youtube.com/user/nervoustestpilot
May 14th, 2013 by Ian
For those who don’t know, I’m the designer and coder of the original PC Frozen Synapse. Frozen Synapse, and multiplayer especially, was my baby – although, as with most games, it was our fantastic team are who made it all possible.
I haven’t been all that involved in FS iPad. Paul, James Urquhart, James Hannett, and Bin (he of the beard, and of the achievement) have been largely responsible for it. I’m pretty stunned by how well it fits the device – the user interface which they’ve all spent so long working on just works. It feels native.
Anyway, back to me. I’ve been working on Frozen Endzone – as much a follow up to FS as it’s possible to be considering the men with guns have been swapped for robots with balls. I’ve been completely submerged in Endzone development for the last year and I’ve hardly played any FS at all.
But now I am again. I first envisioned FS as a game I would play on my DS while sitting on the sofa watching Diagnosis Murder. Well, the device has changed, but basically yesterday for the first time I did just that*.
This is not a blog post trying to sell you on FS. Honestly, I think everyone who visits this site already likes FS or is looking for SNES hacking advice and has already turned away disgusted. I want to write a bit about how it feels to have made a game and to come back to it after this time and actually like it.
Making games is difficult, and it’s often not very fun. You get so stressed during certain stages of development that you just can’t play the game you’ve spent the last 12 hours coding – you have to get away from it. Certainly when you design and code – as I and many others do – there is real separation between those two elements. I will playtest and design for a day, then I will spend the next day coding all the ideas I had. You can’t mix them easily – designing a game and programming are two very different states of mind. And you are never just playing your game like you would play someone else’s.
When you finish something – any creative endeavor really – you tend to be unhappy with it. It doesn’t matter how many accolades you get, or how many sales, the original creator tends to only see the things which didn’t work. The unfulfilled ideas and the bugs. I was able to play FS when it was originally released, but my mind was so full of all of the different feedback I was getting, and all the ways in which my life was changing, that I wasn’t able to just experience FS as a game. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to just experience FS as a game.
Something about the time away, and the newness of playing it on this very different device, allowed me to actually experience FS. And it felt great. It felt like I always wanted it to feel, back when it was just a day-dream. Quick games with real decisions, different every time. I logged in and got a game against a stranger within ten seconds. He was nice and we chatted over IRC while we fought. And then when we’d finished I clicked on “Next Duplicate” and used a feature I’m still immensly proud of – randomly generated maps which are played by multiple people, and it being really easy to see how other people acted given the same decisions as you.
Tomorrow I’ll go and battle with coding the Frozen Endzone AI. I’ll go back to the fear and uncertainty of making something new, and dealing with budgets and deadlines and a commercial climate which is changing faster than I can even hope to keep track of.
But today I’m enjoying a game I already made.
Thanks for all the support guys,
*This is actually a heinous lie. I was watching Murder She Wrote, because there wasn’t any Diagnosis Murder on. Now I like MSW as much as the next guy, but compared to DM it’s like Corona without lime.
April 29th, 2013 by malakian
The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated is a long running and sporadically deployed series of articles about the gaming universe by long time Mode 7 community person Alex ‘malakian’ Hayes. Follow him at www.twitter.com/inspectorvector
Forsooth? FORSOOTH! The Encounter With Dracula Is Terminated! Part 2 of the encounter with Baldur’s Gate, however, is yet to begin! Stumbling in over a week late, the journey continues unabashed. This time, we jump right into playing the game from the beginning, which you may find surprising seen as I’ve already written 2000 words of this blogging epic. If you’re not up to speed with my (lack of) adventure thus far, you can and should catch up right here. Obviously spoilers will scale as I level up, so expect some minor ones here at level 2.
After an ambiguous introduction movie in which a demonic Viking threw a cowering man off a building, I was looking at the character creation screen. I made a male half-elf fighter, with the alignment “neutral good”. Apparently this means I must pursue justice with no particular regard for societal structures. I felt this to be an apt choice, as it reflects what I am doing right now in lieu of lucrative employment. Interestingly, the game warned of ‘consequences’ should this chosen path be deviated from. Next was a choice of combat and weapon skills to invest in. One was KATANA. It’s description basically said you probably won’t find one so think very carefully about investing in this. Below this, a second caveat: “WARNING: Katanas are very rare!”. After investing the maximum points I could in the katana skill, I put the remaining points into two-weapon style. I will not accept anything less than two of the best. My character was ready, and I joined him outside quite a rowdy sounding pub. It was at this earliest of points that I noticed that what I had presumed a tunic was very much akin to a purple summer dress. As if that wasn’t enough, upon the instruction to move, he was responding with “I shall attend to it in a trice”. So, fearing for my unconventionally clothed Etonian, I decided it was time to get him a gin and tonic, and proudly strode to the public house. After trying to gauge the opinions of three nearby cows. They weren’t in the mood.
As I approached the door, a primitive but impressively functional weather system kicked in. Thunder rolled and showers fell. I had been hurriedly instructed to buy what I needed at the pub in preparation for a hasty and unexplained departure, but my elf’s tastes were clear, and this looked no place to purchase an ermine toque. What could be in store for our hero? Well, luckily, the inside of the tavern was far more congenial than it had appeared to be. More respectable sorts than I’d expected stood around, behaving themselves in an similarly-skirted manner to our protagonist. Firebead, the fellow I chose to strike up a conversation with, lamented in spoken dialogue simply that it was “so hard to find decent folk nowadays…”. Noblewoman, another patron, loudly proclaimed “what a pleasure it is to meet a socially acceptable person such as yourself!”. I was now certain my Etonian elf would be fine here; I was in a village pub like any in the English countryside. After quaffing a few ales, I must confess I got carried away, and in my Bullingdon-style excess, smashed a lock off a box and stole a man’s gold. When I was ready to head back downstairs, the town guard accosted me, saying he would only let me go if I handed over all my gold to be used to benefit the library. My riposte of “up yours, you uppity bald virgin” was sadly met with a sharper reply in the form of being stabbed repeatedly, and my character opted for a truly Shakespearian end, shouting “My spleen! My life’s blood seeps out!”. I had learnt a valuable lesson about stealing, and tried again. I learnt the same valuable lesson about stealing and, after the second reload, took my leave of the inn to find adventure.
On the road, our hero’s adoptive father was quickly killed by some ne’er-do-wells who were after me, and I was to continue the world’s least sociable pub crawl by escaping in search of the Friendly Arm Inn. Crossing a forest, I picked up some stragglers who wanted help investigating an iron shortage, and met a suspicious wizard in a pointy hat who quickly returned to the bushes. Our hero announced he “grew torpid and required slumber”, so after camping in the leafy forest, the Friendly Arm awaited. That’s not a euphemism for deviance in the shrubbery. Well, it might be – I’m not quite sure what torpid means. It was here in the Friendly Arm that a bounty hunter tried to accost me with his unfriendly arms, and thus began my first real scrap in the game, introducing me to its semi-familiar combat. It uses the dice roll combat of Advanced D&D 2, and similar systems still rule the roost in many RPGs nowadays. If your magic stick does 1d6 damage, this means it rolls one dice which can land between one and six. Quite straightforward. Shortly after, it seemed my die would need to roll once more as a big orc in the pub said he’d crush my neck with his bare hands if I kept pestering him. Despite my best efforts at further pestering, he remained stoic in his warning and I had to move on. In trolling the troll, I realised that I was being a lot more annoying in my short time in this world than I choose to be in KOTOR or Dragon Age. Why is this? Well, it could be partly due to the somewhat less subtle writing, but I think the isometric camera has a hand in it. Psychologically, viewing angles can be important in how we humans relate to things we experience via the medium of the balls in your face. Pray remain decent, for it is your eyes I talk of. The high up, looking-down-on-things angle has long been associated with the viewer feeling uninvolved and distant, giving an objective, rather than immersive, view of the situation. The subject becomes of reduced significance when compared with a view from the more natural and equalising “level angle” view, and as the unseen observer, you gain a sense of omniscience from being able to oversee the whole situation. I certainly felt a greater disconnect between player and character than even the difference between first and behind-the-shoulder third person imparted. The upshot of this is that it was making me feel less personally responsible for my irritating actions. I had always found it easier to cause wanton destruction while playing GTA than during GTA IV, perhaps because I’m a coward who can’t stare into the pixely eyes of my victims. In fact, I gave up playing GTA IV upon realising that I was becoming bored during the third pub trip that I had attended to keep an uninteresting virtual man happy. If I’d kept on playing like that, the final mission would have probably been an gruelling shift selling low-res newspapers for an artificial news stand owner who felt under the computer-generated weather. Parents really should worry about a generation of children being trained to waste their lives attending boring social summons, emulating the politeness they’ve engaged in in violent video games. Anyway, back in the inn, I gathered the people I’d come to meet and pressed on to find out what was causing the iron shortage in a southern town. If my torpid half-elf is anything to go by, it’s probably vegetarianism.
Arriving at a town called Beregost, I agreed to protect a woman who was a self described ‘Thespian extraordinaire’ by attacking some thugs for her, but she had hoodwinked both them and us, and when confronted, attacked me. Our party mate Khalid got killed by a spider in a house, so we had to resurrect him at a temple. Tried to rest outside, got called a gutternapper, so headed out of town to become a leafygladenapper. It was about here that I died and restarted about 50 times. The first restarts were necessitated by a bug that, when I began to manage my inventory, caused the mouse cursor to irretrievably vanish and move invisibly in an unpredictable fashion. The large majority were due to my save file having stood my party right next to a Vampiric Wolf that was, to me at least, completely invulnerable. There clearly is some truth in the plots of all those trashy films and books that suggest the unholy hybrid of werewolf and vampire is a force to be reckoned with; as probably is the preceding coital dilemma. I dearly hope this is the only horror trope I encounter, for the sake of her majesty’s postal service. I finally got away, and after meeting a neurotic aristocrat in a large hat who deemed the air to be unpleasantly “THICK with manual labour”, headed back to Beregost town. A man in the pub blamed the bad influence of adventurers for his son’s untimely death, and I saved a wizard lady in distress. I now would head south to find the town of Nashkel as everyone in my merry band kept nagging me to do so. They were getting increasingly agitated about much-waffled about the iron shortage. My crustacean-based prediction had suddenly dovetailed together with this mysterious crisis – cast iron pillar boxes could indeed be being left at a perilously jaunty lean. I would need my wits about me. Also, hammers.
I’d looted a few things on the journey, so set about reordering the stuff Snow White and the Five Dwarves had equipped. Something immediately irritating was the absence of the party inventory, as would be found in a modern RPG. Each character instead has their own inventory and carrying capacity. This makes sharing potions a bit of a faff. It’s also problematic if you’re in public while playing, as whenever you select Xzar the wizard, he screams “STOP TOUCHING MEEEE”. Quickly finding the best gear you have acquired is also a dreary task, as each thing must bring up its details individually. The inexorable march towards simplification is often resisted by the stubbornly retro stalwarts whose long beards entangle forward looking developers, and although said beards can be a boon against…Well, Dragon Age 2′s development cycle, micromanagement is very boring in Baldur’s Gate and is something gamers are well rid of.
A dilemma faced me once more. I had made numerous promises to go to Nashkel immediately, and Nashkel was being impatiently waffled of ad infinitum, but once I’d journeyed south through the clearings, the map presented me with a choice between NASHKEL and CARNIVAL. I don’t enjoy letting people down but…carnival. After choosing to head to the carnival, I was given a cut scene with spoken rolling text talking about how I don’t yet understand how my destiny is linked to the iron shortage from the Nashkel mines. The game really, really doesn’t want you to forget your destiny in Nashkel, to the point of incessant annoyance. As much as I felt I could choose to go to the carnival, I had the uncomfortable feeling that Bobo the Clown would be seething, spitting through gritted, stained teeth, and making certain I won the toy bear that had been stuffed with his soggy cigarette butts, surplus prize goldfish and old Kleenex.
The carnival, as it turned out, was not as jolly as I’d hoped. First of all a man tried to sell me a woman encased in stone with the promise of a magic scroll that could let her out if I felt like it. After I declined (I’ve got too many already), Lord Binky the Bufffoon cantered past and announced how “unposh” we all were. He even mocked my pronunciation of “what a fabulous carnival!” I know I’d traded my finery for some modest armour, but really, doesn’t breeding tell? I am posh. I keep saying “trice” for goodness sake. After discussing the merits of the Great Gazib’s Exploding Ogre act with a passer-by, I went into a tent to try and find the party atmosphere, and lo and behold yet another man had a woman on hand to threaten. There is quite an apparent use of women as a fragile egg that assorted bad men may easily apply a speeding teaspoon to should things not go smoothly, so if you’re a feminist offended by such clichés, you’ll be offended lots of times. Though, if you’re a female feminist, you probably won’t play Baldur’s Gate.
Back in the pokey tent, Zordral insisted his busty captive was a witch who needed to die as she may seduce local men, and told me if I took one step more he’d kill her with a spell. I began to gesture at him with my sword in a repeated arc like fashion that made his numbers alter until he fell over because of all the maths. Brentha thanked me for saving her and said she had no intention of seducing anyone, so obviously this was a COMPLETE waste of time. She also told me I should probably go to Nashkel, something that I was so grateful to learn that I went outside and smashed a chicken to bits in a fit of enlightened joy. I did get to see the aforementioned Amazing Oopah, the world’s only exploding ogre. Unfortunately he refused to explode so I had to kill him. I think at that point I’d ruined the carnival. I decided to atone by agreeing to help a man who approached me as I entered Nashkel, which, he explained, curried the favour of “the realm’s only miniature giant space hamster”, which I’m sure will be useful. As I continued down the street, Oublek the Bounty Officer assumed I was a man named GREYWOLF and gave me a pile of gold for ridding the town of a bandit. I agreed that I, GREYWOLF, deserved this, and went on my way with heavier pockets. Could this dishonesty possibly lead to any repercussions? Well, I’m sure it’ll be nothing that GREYWOLF can’t handle.
Will I ever meet GREYWOLF? Will an iron shortage be at all interesting? HAMSTERS? The Encounter with Baldur’s Gate will be on hiatus next week, but will return unabashed for part 3, where you can expect the answers to these questions and less!
 “Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche Part 2: The Psychology of Composition” by prof John Suler has a brief and interesting run down of what effect camera angles can have on human perception.
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