Realigning the Azimuth

Looking to the Future - but Where?

This post is the third in a short series in which I’m publicly reflecting on where I want to try to be heading as an indie developer. If you happen to be interested in the series & my goals for it, you can read the introduction here.

I’ve basically established who I am, and what I consider my values in terms of games development. The next question is working out where. Where are the platforms that are going to work best with what I want to accomplish? Where do I go to find the more receptive people to pitch the game to for coverage?

When I start to look at where I should try & publish, the first thing I think of is what is the best solution for someone like myself. A few years ago, that really was the mobile space (which I feel explains the amount of mobile games trying to do traditional genres without proper control considerations) - the low (relatively speaking) cost to access both the iOS App Store & Google Play meant is was feasible for a solo developer to get their game on there, and with a bit of promotional work - actually make enough money from it to consider another project.

However, thanks to the rise of Free to Play, and larger developers shoving their way in - even if you are able to get coverage, it’s incredibly difficult to get players to consider paying more than the base amount. I used to see mobile as a grounds for delivering small, focused games (not unlike budget labels such as Mastertronic in the 8-bit days) - small, focused, cheap games which might not be the greatest thing on the planet, but were usually fun enough for a few afternoons of play.

As for desktops - it’s a bit more complicated. For starters, desktop is always going to try & be all 3 major platforms (Windows, OS X & Linux) - I feel in this day & age, going PC only is utterly inappropriate for indies, and even though my stats from Pocket Dogfights ultimately question if that was worthwhile, I still feel it’s an important goal to aim for. The larger issue there is just getting in front of people - there’s the larger issue of Steam Greenlight, which feels much harder to penetrate than other places, yet can’t be ignored for some degree of success.

So, desktop obviously seems like the right choice - but there’s expectations there that make me wonder if small games are going to even be tolerated by the communities there - which is harder when you’re developing things on limited resource by comparison.

The second factor which I am pondering is where I should be going to build relationships. I found that with the Pocket Dogfights launch, the only press I did receive was from the result of relationships that I’d spent the last 2-3 years building. If I need to be spreading my reach wider than my local space - obviously I need to be able to that many more times over and with the right people. But to be honest, I’m not sure where that it anymore. When I did pitch, I tried to go across a spread of large & small sites - all of which are indie friendly, but when the responses are either dead air, or being put in contact with advertising departments - it can’t help but feel rather hollow.

Maybe I’m just a bit old fashioned, but I feel like I want to build two-way relationships. I’m not a fan of having to reach out all the time, and sometimes it’d be nice to feel that my development posts/tweets/etc actually are being read by more than a few people.

Which I guess brings me into the last item - I’m not really sure where I belong. I feel that trying to develop stuff on the sides means that it’s easy to feel disconnected from both sides of the spectrum - the more established indies who are able to actually earn an income from their work, and the smaller ones & students who are more focused on the artistic side.

When you find yourself between the groups - then you struggle to find the opportunity to seriously talk development, or process - or how to do things better. It’s why well, I decided to put this little series together in the first place… I’m hoping that I can at least get the chance to find out who I can discuss some of these thoughts & actions with, and at least use that as a springboard to whatever I choose to do next.

Looking to the Future - but What?

This post is the second in a short series in which I’m publicly reflecting on where I want to try to be heading as an indie developer. If you happen to be interested in the series & my goals for it, you can read the introduction here.

What do I want? What do I want indeed? When it comes to my goals in my own game development, I’ve always held a fairly simple list of the in my head.

Looking to the Future - but Who?

This post is part of a short series in which I’m publicly reflecting on where I want to try to be heading as an indie developer. If you happen to be interested in the series, you can read the introductory post at this link.

So, Who Am I? It mightn’t sound like much, but it’s meant to trigger the deep introspection which I’m trying to do for this series, so it honestly felt like the right place to start. In doing so, I at least have a firmer ground of the types of environments I thrive in.

Looking to the Future

Around this time a year ago, I got the email which filled me with both excitement & dread - the email indicating that the iOS build of Pocket Dogfights was approved & that after finalising tax stuff, I could schedule it’s release and watch as the first project I’d released in ~4 years under my own name go live for everyone to enjoy.

I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit as of late, in particular with GDC going on this week & the realisation that had things gone better (in terms of both sales, and in successfully landing enough work to have the cash) over the past year, that perhaps I’d actually be attending instead of watching from afar.

But in line with a bunch of other thoughts of mine over the last few months, I’ve slowly been trying of piece together a better understanding of the type of development I want to do, and how to do it in a way which won’t drive me to the pits of failure again. To do something in a more sustainable way, and too create things that are more true to my values and goals.

That of course, requires a process of intense reflection and soul searching - and whilst the period between making Pocket Dogfights free (and thus symbolising the end of this first phase) and now (where I’m otherwise engaged on a short, but intense contract job), mys not be the best time to do it - I find that it has been quite useful in its own way.

Whilst this is just the introduction - I’m hoping that over the next few posts, I’ll explore some of these questions from a high level, and hopefully be able to formulate a bit of a plan for both the types of projects I work on and the execution in order to be somewhat more successful. The result of which, should allow me to get some focus on what I’m doing and try to execute better for future projects.

You can check out the rest of the posts in the series from the articles below:

  • Who Am I? - In which I reflect on my present skills, some of the things I’d like to work on, and what kind of environments I’d prefer to work in.
  • What Do I Want? - In which I reflect on the types of games I enjoy playing, and the types I want to work on, especially based around skill & resource limitations.
  • Where Do I Want To Go? - In which I reflect on which platforms are the best for someone in my position, along with ponder where the right avenues for trying to speak with people about it.
  • Conclusions - In which (after a long absence) I take stock of the above and come to a few concludes about where I am going.

Hyperspace Jump Complete

Not a big post, but just one to test out publishing under the new setup. For most of the last few years, this blog (and it’s incarnation before this one) were originally hosted on a small VPS. The idea at the time of setting that up was that as I was doing lots of web stuff, it’d be great to have an environment where I could configure my own environment & run my own applications away from my own computer.

Of course, focus shifts, directions change, and I found myself doing mobile development instead. As a result, the need to maintain the VPS wasn’t as high, and well - it became overkill for my purposes. Plus, the evolution of technology has helped with that, bringing easier deployments to other environments, let alone platform-as-a-service models.

Which, as well as tying in with some personal goals to simplify certain things this year - meant it’s time to decommission said VPS. The first phase? Relocating this blog, and sites like the one for Pocket Dogfights over to a simpler environment.

In this case, with all of these sites being relatively static, the best option available was Amazon’s S3 - which I wasn’t aware could be easily configured to handle static websites. Right now, both this blog & the Pocket Dogfights website site are active via S3 (with the blog hosted in Amazon’s Sydney environment, and the Pocket Dogfights one in their California one).

Judging from the performance alone, it’s been well worth it - what I can’t wait to see is the resultant bills, going with S3 for hosting allows for some incredibly cheap rates for traffic, and combined without the need to manage configurations for Apache (or your preferred web server), it means that my infrastructure set up is simplified that little bit. Joy.

The Forgotten Aspects of the Retro Experience

Something I’ve been thinking a little bit about (no doubt influenced by being in the midst of another week of hot weather) is some of the secondary aspects when it comes to indulging in a bit of retrocomputing.

Whilst there is plenty of talk about the primary aspects, the secondary aspects sometimes have just as powerful memories. One of those for me happens to be oddly enough audio distortion. Distortion caused from using an RF connection (which was by far the worst way to connecet old systems back in the day) on a rather terrible TV. I’m unsure if it was due to the tuning being ever so slightly off or just the general quality - but it was audible whenever the C64 was displaying a white screen (either the border or the background).

For most cases, it’s the type of thing you wouldn’t want - especially as it had the potential to drown out the sound of the SID chip, but in one case it was oddly reassuring. When I’d be loading games off cassette tape, the common fast loaders would flash the border through the C64’s colour palette, which resulted in various screeches played over the TV. To be truthful, it was another little sign of activity during the loading process, which makes it own sense of nostalgia.

Yet here I am, some 20 years after I stopped using my C64 full-time (as the march of technology necessitated) and whilst technology has simplified & improved a lot of aspects of using one, this one part of the experience has been lost. It makes me wonder what else can be lost from the retro experience, and if this part of the atmosphere was ever worth preserving in some way…

2014 and This Indie Developer

With the start of the new year, it’s certainly been time to think heavily about quite a few things in terms of direction & focus. The most important thing for me, is really trying to be a lot more positive about things

After quick a hard look & think - I think it’s best to admit that to be honest, I’m just not cut out for the indie developer life. There’s a number of factors which have made me realise this.

Firstly, it’s the working solo aspect - I tend to prefer that simply as it was the opposite of what I experienced with day to day programming roles (being on teams, combined with things like Pair Programming which I happen to find exhausting) - but these days, whilst a individual can ship a game, there aren’t many who have been able to do it & get sufficient publicity & succes (Lance with Black Annex is easily the first which comes to mind).

It’s also down to my design methods - I’ve never been great with a formal design for designs, preferring to experiement and organically grow out a game - which, whilst having it’s own problems, feels like I can control the process, but at a cost in time.

As a result, I’ve decided it’s best to draw a line in the sand with the new year, and as such, have now gone and made Pocket Dogfights free (in the case of the mobile releases), or a minimum price of $0 (for the release on In addition, I’m working on adding MFI controller support to the iOS release, as a little parting gift. I hope to have news on that in the next few days.

For the future? I’m not giving up on writing games, but for now - I’m giving up on them as a commercial endeavour, to focus on finding full-time development work instead.

For those who have bought PD over the last ~9 months, thank you all from the bottom of my heart - I hope you’ve enjoyed the game, and I hope you’ll enjoy whatever I do next (which, will likely still be Pivotus, but just at a reduced development rate).

Games of 2013

When it comes to 2013, there’s been a lot that it has taught me when it comes to what I want out of video gaming, in terms of both the types of games I want to play, along with the types (and more importantly values) of the games I want to make.

I’ve not sorted this list in any particular order (it’s just as it came to mind to be honest), I’ve also mentioned the platform(s) I played it on in particular. Whilst those may not be the ones individual titles were originally released on, there are cases where jumping platforms of course improves things quite a bit in terms of playability or convenience.

Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark (PS Vita): Whilst I’d grabbed this on it’s Steam release for the Mac, it wasn’t until it was brought over to the Vita that I really settled down with this one. There’s something about the platforming action which is optimised for the handheld, in terms of the short levels (making it easier to put it down when necessary), or the general feeling of the Vita in terms of controls (that directional pad is rather lovely).

Tomb Raider (Xbox 360): Surprisingly, the only 2013 AAA release here. I wonder if that’s just the result of the final year of the 360/PS3 generation winding down or if it’s something else. Regardless, I really dug this. Whilst it was more focused on combat than exploration (something which I hope gets looked at in a follow-up), there was some great environment design along with some solid character development moments.

Warhammer 40000: Space Marine: Yes, this probably has the most generic sounding name out there, but the fact of the matter is - there are times when I really do prefer a game to just be upfront about what it expects of you, and then give you that for quite a few hours.

Which is exactly what Space Marine did for me. Sure, I was a tad late to the party on playing it (which is a bit of a theme, especially when one’s a struggling indie), but I just loved the overall experience it provided. Plus, there was some surprisingly great characterisation (which is something I never expected in a genre game like this), and truth be told, I’m actually saddended that the planned arc which this game started was never completed - as the way the game ended was certainly on an interesting note.

3D Space Harrier (3DS): So, it’s just an arcade conversion, right? Nope. I think the biggest thing to take away from this port of the arcade classic is simply how important passion can be for a project to succeed. Without the attention to detail that M2 had on this, it otherwise would have just been another port.

Instead, it’s been the right feeling of the taking something from the past & bring it forward in such a spectacular way. Certainly one of the things I’ve been most excited for on the 3DS - at least outside of Ninty’s own titles of course :)

Monaco GP (Arcade): Monaco GP is an incredibly hard game to be able to play. Not in terms of challenge, but rather in terms of hardware. Due to the fact that it uses discrete logic to run the game, instead of code running on a CPU - it means it can’t be emulated by software like MAME. Thus, the only way to play it, is to find a working machine. (Granted, there is the Saturn version… but I don’t have one of those handy ;p)

Still, as an early arcade racer, there’s something incredibly unique about it - especially with the controls, as the steering provides a degree of control I’ve not really seen in an arcade racer.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to play it again as a result of being able to take my first proper holiday in years (over to the US for WWDC & to catch up with friends afterwards), and it’s one of the little reminders of that part of the year for me.

Asteroids (Arcade): Again, I don’t think there’s much to say here - I mean, like Monaco GP, Asteroids is also a reminder of my trip this year, but also a reminder into how the arcade experience can improve a game. Whilst I’ve had Asteroids emulated on my iOS devices for ages, it’s not quite the same as compared to a physical arcade cabinet - all because of the way the vector screen is rendered. The intense points of light for your weapons fire.

Pinball Arcade (iOS, PS Vita): Truth be told, I more or less missed the hey-day of Pinball - but for some reason, something clicked and I actually quite got into Farsight’s amazing collection, and have been enjoying it quite a bit. Makes me sad there’s no real venue for pinball machines locally these days - I guess it means I need to somehow try to make a reason to visit the Pinball Hall of Fame sometime and play some real tables someday…

ACE (C64): This was one I’d not played since I was much younger, but as I found when recording the play video not too long ago - it’s surprisingly great fun. In all honesty, I think that comes down to being purely focused on providing the combat experience. Not in simulating all the little nuances of flying a modern fighter jet - just enough to get it into the air, hunt down some enemies & blow them into pixellated dust.

Pocket Dogfights: Of course this was always going to make an appearance somewhere in this list. On one hand, I’m incredibly proud of getting this out there, and for having gone through the process. But at the same time, there are the negative feelings associated with feeling like a failure on it - despite all my efforts, it only seemed to gain traction with a small group of folk, and at the same time it happened to teach me quite a few things, both positive & negative.

Tempest 2000: Seeing this here (and ultimately as the most important game of the year) shouldn’t really some as a surprise to see this here. The experience of playing it properly for the first time at PAX, and the friends I’d made as a result of it serve as a great reminder of how gaming can be a unified experience.

Plus, it’s also acting as a warm-up for TxK for me - getting familiar with those tactics, those patterns, all for probably going back to stage one when my Vita becomes the TxK device (I’m guessing next year ;p).

Stuck in Eternal Iteration

As much as I don’t want this to be a I’ve-not-written-much-because-of-reasons type of post… it really is one.

I’ve been finding myself in quite the creative block over the last few weeks with developing Pivotus - for a number of reasons.

Adventures in Retro: Coding

I had the opportunity to check out Syntax Party yesterday - one of the few demo parties in Australia, and actually the first such party I’ve ever been to.

Growing up with the C64, I was only tangentially exposed to the demoscene via the occasional demo being highlighted in various magazines. Most of the folks I knew growing up were only into the games side of things - and whilst the demo scene grew out of the cracking/piracy of commerical games, it’s most certainly transcended that to become it’s own unique cultural item.