Beta / pre-order thoughts
Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Now that our beta / pre-order program for Din's Curse is over I thought I would write up some of my thoughts about it. Hopefully this will be interesting to our gamers and might also be helpful to other indie developers.

The good:

We got a ton of really good feedback. Right now there are 2,153 posts in the Din's Curse beta forum. For our forums, that's a lot. It's second only to the DoP main forum. Also if you look at the change lists, you'll notice a ton of changes were from our beta testers. I've said this a few times, but I'll say it again our beta testers helped a lot and I'm very grateful.

I think the biggest benefit to the feedback was to the balance of the game. It started out fairly rough, but I'm much happier where things are now. We wouldn't have officially released that rough, but I think it is better now than it would have been without the beta.

This one didn't occur to me until we had actually officially released the game, but on day 1 of the official release we had a bunch of experts in the forums. This is extremely helpful and it makes multi-party discussions happen more often (not just me and whoever started the thread).

I really like how the credits thing worked out. I already keep a pretty good done list, so tacking on someone's name to each item is fairly easy. I think it worked to give out a little recognition to people that helped out and is just kind of cool. I've actually had several people comment on it, so I think it was well received.

I ended up adding more new features than I expected to. I did expect to add some, just not this many. I suppose this could technically go into the neutral section, but Din's Curse is a better game with all of the new additions.

The game was pretty stable when the beta started, but I did squash a few crash bugs here and there. This is one of those places that is hard to test as an indie. You need more players and more configurations to track down some things.

The bad:

The only bad thing I can really think of is that we shipped later than I thought due to the beta. In reality, although the release date shifted out, I probably didn't actually lose any time overall. Without the beta, I still probably would have fixed many of the same bugs, it just would have happened during a private beta or in patches after release.

The neutral:

I really liked having open forums for the beta. I'm really not sure if this was ultimately a positive or a negative though. It could potentially have scared people away or encouraged them to join in. Actually I'm sure it did both, but how many of each I have no idea. It was nice that I didn't have to grant access to a private forum for anyone.

In theory, we will get better reviews since the whole idea was to make a better, more polished game before release. This probably should be under good, but I have no way to verify it either way.

Overall I think it went really well, so we are likely to do something similar for future games. What do you all think?

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Tweets 4
Monday, 15 March 2010

Here's some of my latest tweets from twitter / facebook with a bit more explanation.

I made lots of balancing changes today especially for melee characters. This was back for version 0.905 and was mostly strength and dexterity related.

Fixed a targeting issue today that has plagued some users but I never noticed, turns out it's because they use skills differently. I mostly use the right click skills. The issue was skills used from one the main slots wasn't always changing the target to what was being pointed at.

Changed some quests to go obsolete instead of failing today, mostly just a perception change, but I think it will be more fun. Everyone has probably seen this by now. It just makes an escalation of a quest a little less harsh.

One of these days I'm going to write up a blog about the weird bugs I've had to track down, today's was stuck illusions. What was happening is a stuck illusion was stuck because there was a lever attached to it. Since it's not always possible to get to the lever and you can't physically break an illusion these would be impassible many times. Now clicking will always work even if there is a lever.

Added in a bet type quest from gamblers today. Basically this is bet from the gambler that you can't do something without dying first.

I found 4 lesser vaults almost right next to each other today. As usual this is what random numbers do. Sometimes you get an interesting streak of good stuff.

The last few days my todo list has once again started to go in the correct direction, I think that's a good sign. It's gone up since then some, but it is well down from the start of the beta.

Did a large pass over all of the unique and set items in the game yesterday and today. A bunch of the set and unique items got better. I'm trying to make it so more of the rarities are viable more often.

Just passed by a blast trigger, an explosion barrel, and an energy vortex right next to each other. For a change I wasn't very tempted to pull it. Usually I just have to pull these and see what blows up. This time it was pretty obvious, it was just going to be me.

Added 10 new quests today to Din's Curse. These were mostly related to Super Bosses. Kind of a cheesy name, but it gets the point across pretty well.

Monsters now have the possibility of "leveling up" all of the way from a normal monster to a boss. It's really not likely for any one monster to go all of the way from a normal monster to a boss, but it's possible now. Basically for the lower level rarities each time they kill something they have a chance to go to the next rarity.

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Ubisoft DRM
Monday, 08 March 2010

The war between pirates and publishers continues unabated. I'm sure most of you have heard about Ubisoft's DRM they are in putting in their latest PC games. If you have been living under a rock :), it basically boils down to you need a constant internet connection to play their single player games. Being someone that develops games for a living, doing it as an indie, and being a big fan of PC games I have a different point of view about all of this.

This doesn't surprise me in the least. Ubisoft, like most publishers, feels like they are getting backed into a corner. They are more and more feeling like the PC market is dying, not because there aren't a ton of PCs out there playing games, but because of all of the piracy. They are getting more and more desperate to try to continue to make games on the PC, but they feel they can't without more and more restrictive DRM. Others are just abandoning the platform for the consoles or moving over to server side games like MMOs or facebook games. I at least give Ubisoft some credit for trying.

However, my opinion specifically about their DRM is that it sucks. Being cut off from playing a single player game you bought because your internet connection goes down, because Ubisoft's servers go down (which it has already), or because you are on the train with your laptop is just plain wrong. I understand why Ubisoft wants to do this, but it still sucks. All this is going to do is piss off paying customers, which is never a good idea.

Unfortunately, what is going to happen is a bunch of people are going to use this crappy DRM as an excuse to download the cracked version and possibly continue with other games. Even if you bought a legit version of the product you are still part of the problem. This will just make publishers want to use even worse DRM. If you do this, you just become part of the endless cycle.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, most developers and publishers don't like DRM. In general, it costs a lot of money, takes developer time, introduces more bugs, and causes problems for your customers. Most companies would get rid of all DRM in their products if they thought they could do it without losing money. Yes, I know there are some companies out there that want to restrict how you can use your purchase so they can sell you the same thing multiple times, but they are a small minority. Piracy is the root cause of why we have most DRM.

Why does any of this bother me? Well for 2 reasons. I really like the PC as a platform, but if current trends continue the only games that we are going to have on the PC eventually are things that have a server side component like MMOs. This is going to suck. The other reason is that despite all of the bull-shit justifications that pirates use, they still pirate from us indie companies that are struggling to survive, that have large demos, and that have pretty cheap games just like pirate everything else. Actually piracy hurts us even more than a big publisher. At least big publishers have mega hits here and there that supports everything else they do, most indies do not have this luxury.

My humble suggestion to everyone is vote with you wallet. Don't side with the pirates, they are the ones instigating the problem in the first place and siding with them just results in worse DRM later. However, don't side with the publishers that put in DRM that hurts you, the customer. Buying their crap just tells them it is ok. Instead go buy some other cool game that doesn't have crappy restrictions. Show your support for PC games, but don't support the individual games that do stupid crap.

Now for my pitch. Hey it is my blog after all. :) Our games have pretty large demos (Din's Curse will soon), are fairly cheap, have money back guarantees, try to be unique and not just simple clones, and only use simple keys for copy protection. We also actually listen to our gamers and try to be a very open company. So what do you have to lose?

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Tweets 3
Friday, 19 February 2010

Here's some of my latest tweets from twitter / facebook with a bit more explanation.

I added a wandering enchanter today that will sell you temporary buffs. There should be over 20 buffs and it even includes shapechanging buffs. There are actually 22 now. Personally I think the enchanter is kind of cool and different than the rest of the vendors.

My todo list for Din's Curse is down to 85 items. :) It would be nice to be back down to 85 items (this was before beta).

Just as I thought this is foolish hitting the barrel next to the support beam and gas leak, I swear the entire dungeon collapsed on my head. What happened is that the barrel was full of explosive material and exploded. This made the gas leak explode also and destroyed the support beam. I think all 3 of these caused some cave-ins and those cave-ins started a chain reaction and soon the entire room was completely full of rocks (and I was very dead).

Here's how random numbers screw with developers, I needed a town with a dungeon. This has a 50% chance of happening. I had to start 9 times to get one. This seems to happen a lot (of course I know it's just selective memory). I can get out of the game and change the percent to 100%, but that usually takes longer.

Famous last words "This is going to be easy", right before the person needing a rescue triggered an ambush and attacked me. Even though I know this is possible, it still surprised me. I thought it was going to be easy because the npc was right next to the gate and all alone.

Fixed a weird npc/monster duplication bug today that has been plaguing me for weeks. What was happening is that NPCs were getting added to the spawn system after being used in a quest. When this happened the spawn system thought that monster type was allowed to be added randomly when ever it wanted to.

Apparently I like destroying things in games, I just can't help not destroying support beams and setting barrels on fire. What can I say? It's just fun.

Fixed a lot of issues today, todo list is down to 19. Some of these are fairly big like a skills pass though. This was a few days before beta I believe.

Weird bug of the day, I had to fix fires killing other nearby fires. I didn't notice until I tried to get cold spells to put out the fires. I didn't notice this because each fire would kill each other but the effect would stay around till its normal expire time. This worked fine until my cold spells wouldn't put out the fire because they were already "dead".

While playtesting today Delilah set off a fire nova trap nearby while I was next to a bunch of barrels and doors, I had to flee the inferno. Technically the trap only set 1 door and a few barrels on fire, but the fire spread to the rest of the barrels and the door on the other side of me. So I was in a small room blazing with both exits on fire.

Saw a zombie pull a level in the game today, triggered a trap door and he fell 2 floors down. :) This was one of the funniest things ever (to me at least). Zombies can pull levers, levers can be linked to traps, and yes there is a trap door type of trap. I added all of these in the game, but it never really occurred to me that this would happen.

While testing a brand new character, the first monster I killed was a unique and he dropped a unique item. That's luck for you. This was the test character for the beta build. That's a sign, right?

For some reason my todo list has gone from 0 to 87 things today (luckily most of it is very minor). This is right after the start of the beta.

Tracking down unreproducible bugs is a huge pain. :( Off hand I forget what I was trying to track down, but this is always annoying.

Bug hunting today, some easy to find and fix, some trying to be elusive.

Added logging to Din's Curse today so that players can have a record of what happened in their game. This is going to be a really cool feature. It's already being used to tell really cool stories. Let this be a lesson to other game developers. Listen to your fans!

Tracked down and fixed a bunch of multiplayer issues today. Multiplayer issues are a pain to track down. From a debugging standpoint you are only seeing half of the picture. To make it even worse you also have to take into account what the network, the OS, and even what other software like firewalls are doing.

Doing some tax related stuff today. :( I really dread doing tax/administration type stuff. It's boring and way more complicated than it seems it needs to be. You know how some IRS instructions tells you the average time to finish that form? If I actually took the allotted time, I swear I would spend at least a couple months of the year filling out forms.

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Din progress report 3
Wednesday, 17 February 2010

We are now two weeks into the beta of Din's Curse. So far I'm very happy. Everything seems to be going pretty good and most people seem to really like the game, not everyone, but that's expected.

The feedback that I have been getting on our forums, other gaming forums, and by email has been awesome. Actually there has been so much, it's a bit overwhelming. This is a good thing so please don't stop. I'm not able to post responses as much as I would like, but I've been reading everything and changing tons of things based on the feedback.

Today, I released our 4th patch. In those four patches, I have made 309 changes. Well over half of those are changes directly from gamer feedback. There are still many changes coming that I haven't gotten to though. Right now my todo list has 241 items on it. One of these days I will get this back down to zero.

A quick sales note, so far this is our fastest selling game ever. I'm really hoping it stays this way. :) If it doesn't, I might start taking some contracting work, which would slow down Soldak development. :( The sales so far is actually interesting to me. On one hand we don't have a finished product, just a beta, and not even a demo yet. Yet the beta is selling quicker than our previous two games. This is kind of strange. On the other hand, we have an established fan base, we've talked a lot more about this game than probably both our other games combined, and I'm still convinced this is our best game ever. So it's strange and not a big surprise at the same time.

So where does that leave us? Well right now I would say we will have at least two more weeks of beta, a bunch of patches to come, and one of these days an actual demo and a final game. And by final, I mean the patches might slow down, not really final. :)

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