Göne Höme

Putting posts together isn't my strength so there will be occasional downtime - especially while travelling! Please pop over to the Twitter account or Facebook Page if you want intermittent bursts of energy inbetween the deafening silence.

One Person Replied

Earlier this year I decided that I want to make games in Japan. Problem was, I didn't know how to make games and I don't speak Japanese. I scoured the web for Japanese indie communities but nobody responded. Then, this unassuming post got a single reply from a game translator in Hiroshima and I'm thinking, "what are the odds that this one single reply will make any difference..?"

Six months later, we're having lunch in Kyoto after attending the biggest indie festival in Japan.





This has been an experiment of epic proportions. Quit your job, switch careers, go into hiding, make something, bring it to the other side of the world. Three weeks turned into almost three months, and what started out as im gonna go network in japan lol ended up changing things in big, big ways.

..and?

So BitSummit went great. So great in fact, that when it was over I thought to myself man, if I go home tomorrow this was still the best trip I've had.

It started out with me and my housemate running through the pouring rain to arrive (on time!) at a show floor packed with attendees. It was overwhelming, and doubly so when we snapped back into it and remembered we had actual booths to set up.

I then spent two days standing up, not eating, worrying about crashes, fixing bugs, and not believing how amazing life suddenly had become.

Setting up at BitSummit

Talkin nodes at Tokyo Indies

I've never been so completely surrounded by people who are this passionate about anything. Everyone from the dude taking time off his gig at the local café to the dev one booth across to the Sony rep scouting for talent had one thing in common; they were all stoked. Stoked on finding new games, playing them, understanding them, brainstorming, offering their love and support. I felt fake at first for being new to the scene, but people didn't care - they liked the game and that was that.

The Japanese indie scene is a place for idealists to leave traditional career paths, overcome societal pressures, and come home. A place to gamble on their lifelong passions, and doing it together.

Ah, surprise challenger BIC Fest appeared towards the end of the original itinerary and helped cement the decision to skip my flight home. Visiting BitSummit's Korean cousin was like visiting family abroad. New vibe, new food, new subway stops, but the exact same glowing passion and optimism.

BitSummit Highlights

  • Dawn of the first day, two kids came straight to the booth saying they'd seen the game online and asked if they could play. I played it cool, but on the inside I was crying with joy. I felt invincible.
  • The only thing I'd put in my BitSummit todo-list was get Suda51's autograph. I did.
  • A tiny girl playing the game at least seven times (and killing it).
  • Being alone at the booth takes a lot out of you, so the translators agreed to help out and cover for me. Might've broke without em.
First fan selfie 💖

Player feedback 💘

BIC Fest Highlights

  • Camaraderie. Nothing like a beach party with 50 drunk devs going "lol we're in Korea wut".
  • The venue, dawg. LED covered ceilings are insane.
  • Having mom's kimchi on the floor of the Korean college student I met briefly in Kyoto, who then both hosted me in Busan and helped out at the conference.
  • Dwarf Fortress' Tarn's epic first name, and his talk on hand drawn pictures for fans and the ensuing discussions on procedural cat vomit.

The response to the game has been insane with mentions and articles at Famitsu, IGN Japan, some local publications, the Japan Times and even some minor buzz at ruliweb, who back in '06 changed my life with this gem.

Over a thousand people have played Aya Blaze and almost 😤 everyone loved it. People even came asking to take selfies, saying it was their favorite game at the show and they can't wait to buy it. Crazy.

Accomodation: Day 1

Accomodation: Day 71

Don't Forget The Normals

A huge part of working on Aya is bringing it to regular people aka not gamers. The medium has finally become accepted by the mainstream, but it got a little convoluted in the process, leaving many behind.

I talk to so many normals who are curious about games but feel that the threshold for getting started is too steep. Or, they simply feel excluded. The latter is way common, and in a world where gaming holds a cultural position that surpasses cinema, I don't understand the business sense in completely overlooking huge audiences that don't respond to worn out clichés in the form of basically toys for boys.

Normals in Japan.

Normals in Korea.

...which is why I was overjoyed when like half of the my guests weren't part of that target audience - they weren't gamers, but rather friends hanging out at some weird new event for the weekend. They would play the game and say they loved it, but quickly point out that they "don't play a lot of video games" as if that invalidated their opinion.

To me though, seeing someone truly enjoy a video game for maybe the first time ever made everything come together.

[Blog Post Extra Content]

For allay'all devs out there preparing for your first show, here's a short list of stuff I learned from my two first major conferences;

BITSUMMIT:  
 * Bring more business cards than you think you need.
 * Bring more fliers than you think you need.
 * Taking selfies with fans is strange and wonderful.
 * Start menus don't reel people in - have an extra screen on the table for a looping gameplay video.
 * Leave the booth for 10 minutes and miss important people like Eiji Aonuma 😓
 * Stay at the booth and meet amazing people every two minutes.
 * Everyone in this indie business just loves games.
 * Bring something to put all papers and fliers in.
 * Make it easy for people to sign up to whatever you want them to sign up for.
 * Use the biggest monitors you can afford.
 * Put up at least basic (but eye catching) signage that's visible from afar.
 * Bring your own food (vegetarians and vegans only).
 * Print out basic instructions and controls to save your voice box explaining them to over 600 people.

BIC FEST:  
 * Hand drawn controller instructions are kawaii and people like that.
 * Getting acutal feedback is wonderful.
 * Signage should be presented in the host country's native language first, English second!
 * Headphones as an option!
 * Doing new builds at the booth is hard.
 * Taking selfies with new fans is equally strange and wonderful.
 * There's no hierarchy in indie dev. People mingle freely and everyone's just stoked on games.

OTHER:  
 * At the booth, people will approach you constantly. It's hard, but find a way to give each person the attention they deserve while staying aware of VIPs waiting to talk to you.
 * Keeping track of business cards and emails is incredibly difficult.
 * If you have a nose piercing, people will remember you. Flip side being, that doesn't mean you will remember them. That will make them sad.
 * I should really start using hashtags on Twitter.
 * Writing a blog post takes longer than writing an AI.

Gates of BitSummit: 8 Days Left

Organizing Chaos

I'd decided that when the email from BitSummit arrives, I'll do a reaction/unboxing/screamer for future reference. But when I lazily checked my phone, it was suddenly right there.

Still buzzing from the shock, I fired up PhotoBooth to savour the moment, but literally couldn't. For the first time probably ever I was completely speechless. Sitting there smiling like a dork for a good two minutes, giggling occasionally to break the silence and vaguely noting a newfound inability to even form coherent thoughts.

Those three weeks of public insanity got the job done, and now a demo that barely existed three months ago is actually going to the far east to nerd it out. Insane. I was an inch from posting without even opening the email, but embedded was an implication not to go public before the official announcement end of June. Thisss is where things went quiet on the social media side front. Not being able to talk about literally the only thing that existed in your head made it feel like random posts to keep people busy would be like lying to friends about something really important, so I shut it and focused on the game and the trip.

So what up

If I had to choose between real life or fantasy I'd have to go for the latter. I suck completely at micro managing tasks that aren't contained in ones and zeroes, so these few weeks have been tough. Bookings, man. Dates. Deciding on flights and places to sleep while keeping in sync with the people you'll be meeting. Defining your mission, typing it out in a press release for a company that doesn't really exist yet.

So I've been trying to keep up, and in doing so Aya Blaze has solidified even more. Questions like what the game's about, planned release date, team size, publisher or no publisher, budget, platforms - these all needed to be addressed and it's really helped get a grip of the game itself. Pretty much everything that was unclear with the demo at NGC has been addressed, here's a taste;

  • AI works!! And it's a challenge! I was playing this with a friend yesterday, and I literally thought an AI ship was him while praising its maneuvers. I was so happy realizing it wasn't. It was me. I was racing myself..
  • Obstacles don't completely wack you anymore. This required custom faux-collision where instead of PhysX kicking you straight back, the ship forcibly flinches towards the track instead without actually colliding with anything (cause stopping on a dime when you hit a wooden pole at 800km/h sucks.)
  • Drifting has been emphasized and clarified with lights, effects, camera shakes, signs in the level, etc. etc. There's literally billboards now that say DRIFT!!!
  • Heaps of visual refinements. Like, a lot. I was nervous about not having time to add juice inbetween all the tech but there's particles, 3D smoke, 2D smoke, light trails, pixel shaders, outlines, (vastly) improved foliage, ship colors, stuff in the sky, FMOD, details mannnnnn. So good.
  • All the boring behind the scenes stuff that really excites me more than tacos. Optimizations; many. LOD meshes. Instances. Refined math algos. New and improved tools. Man. But the long term plan is really to condense all these tools for a community version of the editor in the future, so it's doubly worth it,

So damn happy with the game right now,

and everything points to not actually working on the game (much) this weekend, and instead doing mundane things like seeing if there's actually enough packing space, and finding my passport.

Poor Man's Stress Testing

I'm not a programmer - and while you can claw your way through a project with minimal C++, debugging is a whole nother matter. The game's been suffering from semi random crashes for a long time, and I've spent days getting into the nitty gritty.

Break points, minidumps, crash logs, call stacks, desperate AnswerHub posts and baiting skilled programmers on multiplayer notepad only gets you so far. Being an avid problem solver (and someone who signed up to show a working game to industry professionals), I had to diy a way to brute force the issue.

The Problem

Every so often, the game crashes when launching a listen server/client and a client into a multiplayer game. It would happen mostly (but not exclusively) through Standalone Play, and mostly when travelling from the multiplayer lobby into the main level. Sometimes the client would crash, sometimes the server.

It wasn't reproducible and the error messages were super vague.

So I bit the bullet and disabled one piece at a time, starting the game manually about 30 times after each fix until it seemed stable.

After a few days, things pointed to a very specific widget in the HUD being the culprit. I joyfully soared through 30 more attempts without a crash. And then we crashed.

It wasn't feasible anymore just tweaking one node by hand and running the game manually for hours, hoping/fearing to come across a crash I wouldn't understand anyway.

The Tutorial

Enter Pulover's Macro Creator aka "don't spend the wee hours of the morning pressing the same button over and over until your eyes dry up".

  • I set the game up so that all I have to do to get to the crashy risky point (on multiplayer game start) was to click Launch Standalone Game in the editor. The server would automatically start the game after the client connected.

  • Then I set up a macro that picks the UE4 Editor Window, launches the two clients, and waits for 18 seconds before starting over.

  • I'd set it up to do up to 300 attempts while I went for a sweet, non-button-clicking walk in the sun.

  • I come back and see if we have any crashes. After completely disabling the HUD, I got through about 150 forced starts without a single crash.

  • Here's what I got when re-enabling the HUD;

  • Finally, I donated so Pulover can keep making career-saving software.

3.9%

No wonder this was impossible to consistently debug. But, after deleting a very very specific Widget and recreating it from scratch, these crashes have been long gone.

This is clunky. Very very clunky. But now I can tweak something and let the game run a couple hundred times to collect possible crash reports.

The hours I'd spend chasing crashes by hand, I'll spend making artwork for the game. I'll pop in after a while and see what crashes we're getting, and how often. I'll disable or tweak something, and then let it run again until we're crash free.

Peace!

Tokyo Drift

Sushi

I'll be sending the game to Tokyo Game Show Friday, so it's been back to the crunchy seat since a couple weeks.

Ew stuff

LAN is gone for now (multiplayer is scary), and am back to split screen. The AI is up and running (colorful, but stupid), with 2D space enemy avoidance and some basic rubberbanding. I finally managed to get dirty with 2.5d effects for the boost, and the overall look of the foliage as well as the cliff area has been upgraded ever so slightly.


Man I love speed lines.

Why are we doing this again?

Now, turns out I might be doing the classic noob mistake of overworking to the point where fun takes passenger seat. There's so much good stuff going on right now - big announcements and new prospects, added features, upgraded visuals, plans for the future, dreams of Bayonetta body pillows.

Things are picking up speed but it's hard to relax and savour the moment. Making the demo with no expectations was hard work but no risk. But the more you have, the more you can screw up - decisions become a lot scarier, and you risk losing sight of what got you started in the first place.

I guess the challenge after friday will be the biggest one yet - learning how to downshift and enjoy the ride. I mean, I'm actually making a freaking game. What.

"How does it feel?"

"Weird."

Going from not even having a game to whatever just happened means that these past few weeks have been among the strangest I've had. It's been immensely encouraging and I now count some great people as friends and colleagues; sharing the same journey towards becoming part of a world we've been on the outskirts of since childhood.

Some of you already know I've been dividing my time between four efforts; making Aya Blaze mainly but also freelance producer duty at a major games studio, making one illustration every day, and learning Japanese. In short, it's been intense - so intense in fact, that the rest of the world seemed to have vanished.

Hand baggage.

So after lugging my own body weight in hardware through the streets of Stockholm, spending 6 hours on a train squashing bugs that manifested themselves hours before travelling - with literally 20 minutes of sleep to break up probably 40 hours of near-continuous work; standing at the table with my first ever game being played by dozens of people, and receiving love for details I hadn't even hoped would be noticed.. it was good.

Combed the stache for this picture.

Best Of

  • People coming back to the booth to beat their old track times.
  • Hourences trying to tweet a picture of me at the booth only for us to realize that I'm so un-photogenic it wasn't worth it.
  • My friend since 15 years who spent two days helping me lug hardware on and off cabs and keeping people happy at the booth.
  • Webhallen, who pulled through for the little guy and supplied the demo hardware - the fact that one of Sweden's biggest companies got stoked for a little one man demo says heaps. Will do another post on these dudes!
  • The man who instigated this whole NGC circus travelled all the way from the far east in order to attend the con, share his vision, and dream about the future. He also gave me my first japanese manga (ノ・ェ・)ノ
  • Finally meeting with rivals-in-love 34BigThings and their <3 RedOut.
  • The most inspiring speech on EVE Online politics I've ever experienced.
  • Sitting in a cramped meeting room with three Nintendo reps sharing their belief in the game. And the butterflies that followed.
  • Living with cats for two days. 🐱

Contact has been made in unexpected places, a pile of business cards is ripe to be ripped apart, and I'm getting kinda nervous that my plan of leaving this town I've grown so sick of might actually come true.

UE4 Community Spotlight

I haven't prepped a page for people tuning in through the UE4 browser so here's...

The rundown!

Aya Blaze is a high-speed, low gravity arcade racer with focus on a fluid racing experience and energizing, uplifting vibes. It feels much like a sugar rush.

This was the doodad thing I fooled around with while learning how to make games about a year ago, and I've worked on the prototype on and off between freelancing since. A couple months ago I spent 3 weeks taking it from this;
to this; ..in hopes of showing it at BitSummit in Kyoto this July.

The demo got some attention and I will be showing it at Nordic Game Conference May 20th!

Pics and video

Got these from the post where I after 3 weeks of crunch finally sent the demo in to Bitsummit. If you want to relive the journey, don't be afraid to browse around el bloggo!

OKAY, so~

I made a Facebook page (scary, but inescapable), so pop in if ye feel like it. I'm mostly active here on the blog but there's a Twitter as well that I want to use more for drunken rants.

I'd Download A Car

Troubleshooting RL

Running a show from the comfort of your TFT is tres cool. Few things are as satisfying as having all the problems you'd possibly want to sink your teeth into - and their solutions - at your fingertips.

So solving problems in the physical realm can be pretty slow moving and frustrating in comparison. Just prepping receipts for taxes makes you feel like a medieval peasant donning a tattered cloak, gathering their wheat and poultry and going on a long and treacherous journey to the wicked tax collector in the valley below.

Flying solo has its downsides, and it turns out you can't download or automate fliers and business cards, extra computers for demoing the game, someone who can help at the booth (and wants to spend 12 hours in a car with a hollow-eyed gamedev and can get time off work), a car, and somewhere to sleep.

Whatever, what about the game?

OK so for the aforementioned business cards we need a LOGO. It ain't permanent but it's got a good swoosh to it and will be way sweet with BLAZE stamped in metallic foil. 💦
Gameplay wise, two big features that keep coming back are LAN play and AI ships.

LAN has priority since it should be more straightforward, but it's not. Even the most basic of tutorials didn't go ELI5 explaining that each computer is like its own little isolated dream world bubble, and anything you see on your computer is actually in your computer - even other players. Like, when I see you on my screen it's not you (cause you're in your own computer). It's your clone, and it's is mimicking everything you do. Weird.

Level 1-2: Nordic Game Conference '16

Aya's going to her first con!

Whaaaaaaaaaat. Still giddy. Don't think I'd heard of NGC before this adventure, but after sending the demo to BitSummit I was advised to attend, mingle and get a feel for the Scandinavian community. I hadn't even thought about looking closer than Japan for chances to meet other devs, so hearing about this was a tasty surprise.

So I found out they were taking submissions for something called an indie discovery session. The demo was just wrapped up so I shot it their way, ate all my fingernails, and BLAM - Aya is joining me in Malmö so we can "meet various interested publishers in intense, five minute meetings".

Hide here after maxing out your social anxiety in a "meet-up with the publishers, speed pitch-style".

That's all I know

Seriously. This'll be my first con so to any old timers reading this; all pointers appreciated - drop me an email if you have advice on what to bring or what to expect. This is what I have so far;

ABZ NGC16 PACKING LIST  
  * The game
  * (At least) two computers

Cool. Anything else?

Todo Lists

AFK IRL

The past week has been a mixture of "did that just happen?" and "wtf do I do now?".
Well the answer came fast 💦, and while I haven't heard back from BitSummit there's definitely some titillating stuff happening to Aya Blaze. Not jinxing anything, but as soon as possible, beans will be spilled at ye olde ABZ "social" channels.

Status update

Went into low gear after delivery, but stuff's going down with effects (mesh particles are 😎), UI clarifications, optimization, graphics options, as well as opening the door to the wonderful world of PID controllers that allow for smooth, automated machinery steering. These controllers excite me so much - and have the cutest abbreviation - I hope to dedicate a future post on the incredible sensation of having a machine in a machine in a machine.

Postmortem

But until then, here's something private. Some have asked what organizational tools were used in order to employ this fantastic demo in just three weeks - so here's the highly organized and moderated todo-list that was the project backbone during the road to BitSummit.

Please enjoy this glimpse into the structure and integrity required to bring something this complex home in 21 days.

Bare minimum  
Tier 1  
    X A SHITTY level
    X One player

Tier 2  
    X  Prototype graphics (matrix, gradients))

Tier 3 (tech)  
    X Fix bouncy edges (smooth edges fixes it?) wait til after glitch effects)
    X  Placeholder Start Menu
    X Pause menu
    X  Split screen (2 gamepads) (fix HUD)
    X Nitro pads
    X Grass patches around track

Tier 4  
   X  A decent level
   X! Basic enviro finished (omg getting there.................?)
   X Make the nitro pads mini-boosts instead of long ones

Tier 5  
   X Procedural edges/walls not needed since smooth!
      Clean up level splines, fix kinks, connect

Tier 6  
X  Basic Ship material  
X. Logo + nice start screen  
X. UI/HUD

BASIC SOUND EFFECTS


Tier 8  
/ Background painting / mountains
/. Extra Level details
/ Juice
X  Visual glitch and impact effects < implement in BP  
    Music engine

Tier 7  
    AI :(

Tier 9  
    Item pickups
    Missile item
    Mine item
    Nitro item

DONE  
    X Spawn forest ALONG SPLINE
    X  Inari fences model
    X Kitty Wave + stone shader
    X Reply on the japan forum!
     X Daisy chain road splines (tech) - DO IT BY HAND
     X Y Split
    /  Style cliff area

Unsorted:  
X.  CRASH = DEATH + COOLDOWN BEFORE RESPAWN?  
X   Slow mo when you hit the goal? No  
X   Split shaders for Inari gate mesh  
X   Slap strafe  
X   Check how foreign devs in Kyoto manage  
X. Floating road thickness believable  
X  Fix nitro crashes (do we even have those?)  
!  Math corkscrew.......................? <refine

Sprint  
Days 1-3 go for OK QUALITY. Save refine for last day  
Day 1 - playtesting, refining, bug squashing, add nitro use  
Day 2 - look, shading, level details, particles  
Day 3 - UI, packaging  
Day 4 - tweaks

1 DAY;  
X Menu / Interface COMPLETE

2 DAY;  
X. Level COMPLETE with twists/turns  
/  Dress set

3 DAY;  
(Audio)
/  Fix level glitches (collision mostly)
 Complete dress setting, mostly end of level
    Airplane trail
    Fireflies?
    Speed lines(particles)
    Billboards?
    Quit button (menu)
X Time end didnt make it

Scoreboard is too low at 720p

0 DAY;  
   Tweaks

LAST DAY  
X Install FMOD  
X Implement Audio  
X Implement ghosts + saving + shader  
X Scoreboard glitch

/ Look at AI

TODAY:  
Needed:  
X Add nitro pads, test level  
X While testing, add fences where needed  
X Fix playerinput from PC controller  
X Time trial 1P  
/ Time trial 2P - just test it - wtf foesmt fuckobg worl

THREE BOSTS - item resets all three - crashing resets one  
OR time resets all three lienarly

(make your own highscore name icon)

Speed cam shake

Easy mode

X  Leaderboard shit)

TODAY:  
X  WTF instability??  
X  Sphere for side collision, box for bottom collision!!  
X   More rails/saves!  
X  Quick - Disable nitro before game starts  
X. Software crash on start? - fixed loop  
X. Ship crash/fly away reset/safeguard  
X (Mini nitro system + placeholder icon)  
 X Refine corkscrews roads/rebuild
 X More extremes/fun at cliffs
X Clarify handbrake

TOMORROW  
X  Shading!!/Look  
X  Make Corner Arrow signs  
/  Place corner arrow signs
X  Ship shader  
X  (Environment mountain) 3D first  
X Glitch FX

FRIDAY  
X Nicer leaderboard) - prototype in PS!Black opacity slate?  
X Nicer Race HUD  
X Nicer start screen  
X Fix end of level - solid mesh?  
    Sound:
        - Placeholder music
        + Simple SFX
        + Responsive music system
X Ship backlight/nitro/throttle/gas effects  
X Environment bits and painting  
        ^first landscape ass placeholder - works for now

X Finish start menu  
    Add options for rez/audio/qual

(Normal map speed rain disp)

BONUS:  
    Speed lines <-overlay post
    (Grass foliage) <needs more work

LATER  
X  Post processing bug!!!!!

For fun:  
 X Ugly ocean shader

On the list:  
   X Light build bug

ATFTER  
First person camera switch??  
X  Finish level layout

BitSubmitted

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

This last day was a sprint if I ever experienced one lol.

Just before bed this morning I accepted that the AI won't get finished, but racing someone is too fun to miss out on. So after getting some hours in the sack, a simple demo system was pieced together, I recorded myself racing the track, and added vs GHOST mode. What better way to empower the player than a mode where you race the creator?
First game to be developed by a dead person

Then, the trooper who was helping out with audio had fallen asleep in front of the computer while I was resting, so after the ghost was kinda doing its thing the .wavs had to be wrestled into the engine and a makeshift event system for audio was setup.

This picture is dope, but unrelated.

Then, of course, delivery came along and the slimy bugs that had kept hidden away in the dark crawled out from underneath the bed and jumped the game hard while packaging.

But then it happened~

For your consideration.

I want to share the state aya blaze was in on this fateful day of submission and prototyping complete. A lot will be happening in the coming months, so see this as an indicator and a milestone 😌🚬

Video password: bitsummit

These are the screenshots and video BitSummit received along with the build. Not quite ready to splurge all of it on social media, but for anyone who made it to this corner of the internet, check it out 👯

Stay tuned

These weeks have been so intense. I've learned tons, leveled up my skillset considerably, been exposed to the warm and caring side of indie game dev communities. I've received cheers and words of encouragement from frengers all over the world, made friends and colleagues, and my faith in this new creative world I'm entering has been thoroughly cemented.

Now, I thought this was gonna be a huge moment of relief, but I'm kinda sad that the bubble burst and this intense rush of optimism, naivety and hard work is cooling down.

But we'll blaze. I'll do a post mortem in the coming days, sharing some of the process and chaos that went on in front of this TFT panel, so check in later.

Bai.

  1. Göne Höme

  2. Gates of BitSummit: 8 Days Left

  3. Poor Man's Stress Testing

  4. Tokyo Drift

  5. "How does it feel?"

  6. UE4 Community Spotlight

  7. I'd Download A Car

  8. Level 1-2: Nordic Game Conference '16

  9. Todo Lists

  10. BitSubmitted

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