Closing the Loop

In many ways, Nintendo have been playing catch up with the rest of the industry in the last few months, with their new account system and first mobile app Miitomo launching recently. Nothing exemplifies this more so than the nintendo.com website, which finally allows people to buy digital download games without having to log onto their console. For most consumers it’s a cool, if minor added convenience. However, for developers it represents a major fix to a once horribly convoluted purchasing process.

Essentially, developers and publishers can now link directly to a place where people can actually buy their games, no matter what device they are on. This opens up an array of new options for marketing eShop games. Whereas before, by the time the potential customer gets home and/or has time spare to log onto their console, they might have forgotten the game they saw advertised. Now, mobile and web-based ads become far more viable, as clicking through leads straight to the store page and the chance of an actual conversion.

price question

Currently, I suspect that most eShop sales, particularly of indie titles, come from a small pool of highly active Nintendo fans. Consider a well received indie game can struggle to rack up 10k sales, whereas Nintendo 1st party titles can shift tens or hundreds of times that. Clearly there is an audience out there and willing to spend in the right circumstances.

Smaller developers in particular can now promote their games directly from their own websites, from their youtube channels, twitch streams, email lists, social media channels, and so on. Even when demoing at games conventions, developers/publishers can still direct people to the nintendo website and in theory make a sale on the spot.

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Of course, it’s not perfect, as potential customers can still be lost in the in-between steps from landing on the nintendo.com store page, logging in, entering payment details, and so forth. However, it’s still infinitely better than what was there before.

With any luck, indie developers in particular will embrace this and factor it into their less conventional marketing plans. Certainly for our games, when we do have a cool and unusual idea for promoting our games, we’ll have a much more flexible, versatile way to convert an interested person into a sale and (hopefully) satisfied customer.

Soft Price Control

Nintendo recently launched a new customer loyalty scheme in Japan, My Nintendo, alongside the release of their first mobile game/app, Miitomo. In the scheme, players are rewarded with “platinum” coins for various activities centred around encouraging engagement with Miitomo and other Nintendo services. These coins can then be redeemed to get discounts on certain games or other digital trinkets like background themes for the 3DS console.

However, like all good mobile games, Miitomo has a second premium currency. At time of writing, spending these “gold” coins gives much bigger discounts to a wider selection of games. Unlike other mobile games, Gold coins are earned purely by buying other games on Nintendo eShop for 3DS and Wii U. The higher the cost of the game bought, the more coins are gained.

Interestingly, there is a minimum price bracket of 500 yen (~$4.50), below which the player receives no gold coins at all. If as expected, most Nintendo fans and regular eShop customers sign up to My Nintendo, then any games below the minimum price will become less attractive, due to them not coming with any gold coin rewards.

In effect, it introduces a soft floor on prices. Developers/publishers could still opt to price their games lower than the floor, but understand that there would be a disincentive to do so.

Nintendo have said in the past that they see price deflation as a problem. The eShop has a wide range of titles, but many are low price, short, quick experiences. That makes more sense for the portable 3DS. For the Wii U though, there’s more of an expectation that games are longer, more substantial games that players can sit down and play in longer sessions relaxing at home in front of the TV. By introducing a disincentive for developers to price low, it should mean that smaller games get squeezed out of the market.

Arguably more worrying for Nintendo has been the recent trend of regular, deep discounting of eShop games by 3rd party developers/publishers. Putting a game on Sale not only makes it more attractive from a pure price vs value perspective. But is also one of the few ways to increase visibility post-launch, with possible eShop store page placement and listings in Nintendo fan press.

Presumably, if games give gold coins based on the discounted price, it’ll give developers/publishers pause for thought when considering a sale. Whereas at the moment, there really is no reason not to regularly put the game on sale.

Just how intentional these changes are is hard to gauge with Nintendo. And how much Nintendo fans will place getting gold coins above paying less for a title, we’ll have to wait and see. Still, it’s a different way of tackling the problem of price deflation as seen on mobile, or the culture of deep discounting, as seen on Steam.

From my perspective, might even consider raising the price of Totem Topple on the eShop. At least once the new update for it comes out with all the new features etc. It’ll certainly have the content to justify doing so, and may also be that by pricing the game at a relatively modest $2.99 to begin with has given the impression of the game being a bit lower quality than maybe it really is. It’s a decision for another day, and My Nintendo is not even out yet here in the west, but it’ll certainly be something to factor in for the future.

Gear Gauntlet Coming to Wii U

We’ve teamed up with UK based studio Drop Dead Interactive to bring their game, Gear Gauntlet, to the Wii U. It’s a fun but rage inducing 2D action arcade game that we think will be right at home on the Nintendo console.

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We’ve been hard at work porting it to Wii U for the last few months, adapting it to work with the Wii U’s unique GamePad controller, integrating Nintendo leaderboard API’s and adding a few extras like Miiverse functionality, Wii U Pro and Classic Controller support. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be ensuring Gear Gauntlet passes all the requisite Nintendo checks, as well as promoting it, with the game eventually being published under the Crystalline Green Ltd. banner on the eShop.

However, that’s not to take away from the imagination and skills of Drop Dead Interactive, which have truly brought this title to life. We’re just proud to be helping it reach a greater audience.

An OUYA Story

Adventures on the Ground Floor

In the summer of 2012, I was down the pub after an Android meetup, talking to this guy who reckoned OUYA was a big deal. This was two or three weeks into their kickstarter campaign and whilst I’d read about it, it had kinda passed me by up till that point. Next day, I gave it a lot of thought, properly checked out their kickstarter campaign and decided to give it a shot.

Back then, I’d already been an indie game developer for over a year, struggling away making a game for Android in my own home-built java/openGL engine. Yes you may laugh, but I’d effectively come straight out of university to do this, driven by the narrative that the industry had come round full cycle, back once again to the days of bedroom coders. The app store meant anyone could make a million with the right game. Recently though, that faith had started to be tested. Going to Android conventions, talking with a lot of people, seeing the statistics. I was just a drop in the app store ocean.

OUYA was a chance to get in on the ground floor with a new platform, and if it took off, ride that rocket. It was a calculated risk for sure (as people at the time kept reminding me). A sort of all-or-nothing strategy, but better than the app store lottery. Plus my family, especially my Dad, were on my back about how I’d wasted over a year of my life doing the indie thing without success, and how I should quit and get a real job (which I’ve still not done!) OUYA was the last chance. If it didn’t work out, then I could at least say I’d given it my best shot and move with my head high.

I backed at the $700 “devkit” level, ditched the previous game I was working on (after 18 months! Though that’s a story for another day), and decided to make a new game just for the OUYA. I polished up my existing Android-based engine and set about crafting this new project.

By new year 2013, everything had gone a bit quiet. The buzz and hype had dissipated and the OUYA was for most, out of sight and out of mind. This was slightly alarming, since the devkits were due to be delivered imminently. I decided to throw myself into changing that. I joined twitter, started following and messaging anyone and everyone I could find about OUYA. Over a couple of months, I organised two meetups in London, with over 50 people at each one! With developers bringing along their little see-through plastic boxes, talking about and demoing their games. I’d never done anything like it before, and it was hugely exciting and rewarding to see all the hard work come together and be a success!

In fact I organised a third meetup in Leeds, but only a handful of people turned up. It was an exhausting experience, trying to drum up support both online and through repeatedly driving round an unfamiliar Leeds city centre late at night, going to meetups, finding a venue and so on.

I changed tack and started instead going to conventions and shows. I demoed my in-development game at an anime convention. At the time, I was the only indie there, in amongst all the comic book and t-shirt stalls with my basic stall and home-made setup, right opposite the shiny professionally constructed booths of Nintendo and Crytek.

I went to the enormous Gadget Show convention and was picked up by one of the researchers for the TV show of the same name. I went to their studios, told them all about it and my OUYA got on TV! I walked into a branch of the retailer, GAME, after talking to them via twitter, and arranged for myself and several other indie developers to demo their games in store!

The OUYA was my secret weapon. I used it to open doors and squeeze every opportunity I could from it, and it was a thrill to be able to do that. To take something and run with it, since the small startup that was OUYA Inc. was based in the US, with almost no presence in the UK what so ever.

I was even invited to do a couple of weeks contract work for OUYA, helping squash bugs in the time before the first wave of consoles were released to general backers. But I’d not really worked in that sort of SCRUM, daily-standups, team environment before. I’d just been doing my own thing as an indie, and found myself a bit out of my depth most of the time.

There were also a few own goals. I was approached by a company who did hardware benchmarking, and naively agreed to help them get their software running on my “devkit”. The results were not exactly cutting edge, and the fallout helped feed into the very negative narrative that surrounded the OUYA at the time.

As for my game, I had a very clear, immoveable deadline. The OUYA would launch in stores on this date and missing that would negate the whole point of making an OUYA game, which was to be a launch title on a new platform. I hit that deadline with a few days to spare, something I’m still immensely proud of.

 

The Hate Awakens

It’s hard to pinpoint where the hate for OUYA first started. The internet always has its garden variety trolls who will pick on whatever, but even to this day, people who never even used an OUYA still seem to take a measure of delight in hammering down on it. I think a couple of things in particular did for it.

Playstation 4 was announced with much fanfare just a month or so before the OUYA was due to be delivered to the bulk of those who backed it at the reward $100 tier. PS4 was everything that OUYA wasn’t. Big, powerful, shiny and polished. This was the real deal, was what gamers, tired of the ageing previous generation really wanted. More of the same, but faster, better looking, and with all the mod-cons: Friends lists, leaderboards and video sharing etc.

PS4 and later Xbox One’s appearances also reignited the age-old console wars, and OUYA was a convenient target to which both sides could be unified in deriding.

The other big factor was in part of OUYA’s own making. On the kickstarter page, there was a due date for the console to be delivered. Backers expected their OUYA’s to drop through the letterbox on that day. OUYA, for whatever operational reasons, took that day to be the day when the first batch of several hundred units would leave the factory and start the long process of winding their way to people’s homes.

The alternative – delaying delivery – would have doubtless caused an almighty furore, However, the communication was not handled well at all. OUYA’s customer support melted under the pressure of 60,000 people all asking why their OUYA hadn’t arrived, all at the same time. The lack of response that resulted lead people to further complain, and so compound the issue. And then shortly, take their complaints online to find they were not alone.

There were some other factors as well. The bombastic claims about “The Revolution will be Televised” probably did more to hinder than help in the long term, feeding the perception of over-promise and under-deliver that turned many off from OUYA. The company, in my opinion, was also not able to separate the messages it sent to the investor community, from those it sent to the consumers. OUYA was trying to be a disruptive force, and needed to hype itself up to attract investors. But such was the intensity of the spotlight on the company, that those interviews on Bloomberg or Forbes aimed at securing further funds would get repeated by gaming sites and thrown into the internet echo chamber.

After the debacle with delivering to backers, it was all downhill. The circle of toxic negativity became infectious, spiralling into one big hate-fest. Even I was caught up a little by it. Spending all day trying to defend the OUYA and reason with people, you pick up on a lot of their grievances. A month or two after OUYA’s retail launch, I wrote an article entitled “The Revolution is Dead“. In it I argued OUYA had lost the core gamer market and should pivot towards more casual consumers. Of course people just read the first half or even just the title, and I think a number of people at OUYA who I’d previously got on quite well with felt hurt and a touch betrayed by the article. I managed to undo an awful lot of that good will that I’d worked so hard and enthusiastically to build up.

 

The Lean Startup

I’m convinced OUYA were following the Lean Startup by the book. Release a minimum viable product (MVP), find a product-market fit, and build from there. It failed for three reasons:

1). Gamers weren’t expecting an MVP – Look at the history of video games consoles. It’s only really in the last couple of generations that consoles have been online, and liable to get occasional updates and patches. Before that, and still to this day, consoles and games are judged as they are found on day 1, and that perception sticks for the lifetime of the product. They don’t magically get better after you’ve bought them.

Most consumers looked at the OUYA, especially in marked contrast to the PS4, and decided “this looks a bit shitty”. And that was that. End of story, as far as that consumer was concerned. When it first started turning up in the wild, the interface was nowhere near complete. It was being tested and tweaked and underwent a number of major revisions in the months after release.

You could argue that OUYA was a bit before its time, and that gamers are slowly getting more used to the idea of games and platforms as services, rather than products. Or equally, you could argue OUYA simply misread their audience. Either way, once they started getting 3/10 reviews, there was little hope of coming back from that.

2). The Anti-Fit - The nature of an MVP is that it’s not necessarily released with a specific solution or target audience in mind. It’s a product looking for a solution. This was one of the criticisms levelled at OUYA at the time of its launch. Actually that’s fine, because, with the right attitude / setup, the idea is to let the market and the real users help guide development to eventually find that fit. That point where it clicks and starts gaining traction. (Or so goes the Lean Startup theory).

Most companies start off with a few customers / users and grow from there. OUYA on the other hand went from zero to 60k customers overnight. They almost certainly weren’t expecting more than a few thousand early adopters if you look at their initial kickstarter target amount. They were left trying to do the whole process backwards. To work out what exactly their newly found customers were expecting from a product that mostly existed just on paper.

The problem was, different people had read different things into what the limited and slightly vague campaign material had said. It was an indie games box, it was a TV/media streaming box, it was a device for tinkerers and android modders. Or it was just something that seemed cool and was an impulse purchase, made in a rush of excitement.

OUYA had to narrow that down over time, as it couldn’t be all those things, and with each turn, instead of getting closer to product-market-fit, it lost another group of users, who in turn became disgruntled complainers on social media.

3). Scaling and Kickstarter – The other problem with going from zero to 60k customers in an instant is in scaling the business correspondingly. In OUYA’s case, this hit home when their customer support system was overwhelmed in the days after they started shipping to backers. When a business grows slowly, you can see when the customer support department is starting to struggle. When their KPI’s begin to drop, take action. Or anticipate when they’ll no longer be able to cope given current growth in customer numbers. And so train up more support staff in advance.

Not in OUYA’s case, where their growth was represented by a single big step, both in terms of numbers, but also in terms of how much support they needed. When backers were waiting for the delivery deadline to arrive, they had no reason to contact OUYA. So to have hired a bunch of staff, sitting doing nothing, would have been pointless. Equally, if they had have hired large numbers, and the anticipated demand had failed to materialise, they would have faced accusations of wasting money, ironically from the backers/customers who fronted that money.

Ultaimtely, all these things fed into the perception of the console, which in turn fed into sales and developer support (or lack thereof).

 

A Legacy of Sorts

OUYA may live on in name as the western publishing arm of Razer Forge TV, it’s staff and technology integrated into that product, but the box, and in many ways, the dream it represented, are no longer.

It’ll always retain at least an odd place in video games history. A sort of “do you remember that!? Hah!”. How much it contributed to the big 3 console makers opening up their platforms to indies, versus how much it just rode the existing wave of indie games popularity is open to debate. And wherever you stand on the issue of quality control and which games are or aren’t allowed onto a platform, the OUYA certainly delivered when it came to making life easy for developers.

OUYA probably can claim credit at least for, if not inventing, then certainly popularising the notion of microconsoles. Those that came after it, the FireTV’s and AppleTV’s of this world, probably would have happened anyway, but undoubtedly the makers of those took a long hard look at the OUYA to see what practical and technical lessons it could teach.

For myself, my OUYA game didn’t sell well at all. It was a great achievement to have both hit the deadline, and in doing so, release my first commercial game. But between OUYA’s own issues and some fairly fundamental game design flaws, it never really stood a chance. In hitting that deadline, I kinda skipped out on all the usual testing and prototyping, instead going for a reskinned clone of an existing board game, which I falsely believed would translate over to the console format. It didn’t, and to say I was a bit foolish would be an understatement, going from being a lifelong PC gamer, having never owned a console myself, to trying to make a console game solo in 9 months.

In the aftermath, I attended a talk where each of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo laid out their respective “we’re indie friendly” stalls. I now do console porting, and make games for the Wii U, with plans to expand into PS4 later this year.

I learned a lot in my year of OUYA. Experiencing the internet hate, seeing a tech startup go from boom to bust at close quarters, project management and hitting deadlines, experiments in marketing. Above all I learned from OUYA that perception is everything.

My Gaming Year

Inspired by this tweet from Edge magazine, I’m putting down my thoughts on video gaming in the last year.

The last year has been a bit underwhelming. I’ve come to terms with not having enough time between work and social commitments to sink 30 hours into epic open world games. Even so, no game really grabbed me and said “you need to play this!”

My job in the industry as an indie game developer, I’m probably more than a touch jaded at this point, but it was still disappointing to watch the various E3 presentations and think “none of this stuff is really aimed at me”. In contrast to last year, whereupon Mirror’s Edge elicited a “Yes!” and Splatoon, a “Hell Yes!”

The latter I dutifully bought on launch day and thoroughly enjoyed. As someone who had never owned a Nintendo system before Wii U, Splatoon was the first game where I didn’t feel disenfranchised at not having not played and grown up with the sequels. This year I actually bought and played my first ever Legend of Zelda game – A Link to the Past – on Virtual Console. It was quite fun! But also elicited the odd feeling of having played it before vicariously through the many games it inspired down the years. And being subconsciously aware of that as I played took the edge off it.

Though having said all that, Splatoon reminded me a lot of playing endless hours of counterstrike back when I was a teenager, which probably helped my enjoyment of it. I can’t really pretend I’m not immune to the nostalgia, just that it’s nostalgia for different games.

The other big wins for me were Endless Legends and Big Pharma, both of which I did find the opportunity to sink inordinate amounts of time into, on the occasions where I had a whole weekend free to binge game.

More widely, I played a lot of VR demos and games this year. I’m increasingly convinced VR has huge commercial and industrial applications, but that for gaming, it’ll initially only sell to a few million “core” gamers. Various VR games I’ve tried have all attempted some trick or another to get around or sidestep the problem of being unable to move without getting sick. I’ve yet to play a VR game that really works within the constraints of the device in that sense, which has hardened my skepticism towards the tech.

My other disappointment was Cities: Skylines. You have to be in the right mood for those sorts of games, and maybe when I bought it on Steam sale, it just wasn’t quite the right time. But it played almost identical to many of the other city builders I’ve tried over the years. After all the hype, I was expecting something a little different.

I also made an attempt to get into mobile gaming this year, but the games I played felt kind of missing something. On the one hand, Monument Valley was excellent, but I powered through it in under a day as I wasn’t expecting it to be so short. Conversely, I played Disco Zoo and Neko Atsume, both of which made for great little time killer games. But if my bus ride was more than 5 minutes, or I came back to the game more than a couple of times in the same day, I just ran out of things to do in the game.

The year isn’t entirely over yet. Last Christmas, I got a Wii U eShop card and bought a bunch of games on sale, a couple of which I had great fun with (in particular, Child of Light I completed before the holidays were over!) So here’s hoping to a future filled with more pleasant gaming surprises!

f2p needn’t be all bad

Whether you like or dislike the way any particular game uses f2p, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the concept.

For those not familiar, f2p stands for “free to play”, and is a shorthand for any monetisation system that gives the base game away for free, then seeks to make money through the purchase of additional stuff for the game.

That stuff can come in two main forms: “Consumables” covers things that have a one-time use in game, such as power ups or in-game currency. “Unlockables” are thing that can be used repeatedly, such as new levels or game modes.

price question

Unlockables are the easier to understand from a consumer perspective. I pay some money, and now I “own” the product I paid for. Not really all that removed from how games have always been sold. The difference being that the game is now atomised – split up into individual chunks of content, rather than simply sold as a single job lot.

This gives more power to the customer, letting them decide which parts of the game they want to play. If they’re just interested in the single player campaign, they pay just for that, rather than subsidising the multiplayer modes that they have no desire or intention to play.

From a developer/publisher perspective, it means they can see which types of content are more or less popular and concentrate on making more of that. It means they can get the game out earlier, then add content as they go. This helps both cash flow, and reduce risk, as if the game turns out not to be all that popular or good, they can cut their losses before having sunk vast amounts into making levels and characters for a game no one really wants.

Consumables by contrast are a little harder to grasp, as what they really represent is time using a service. In the past, customers might have inserted a coin to keep playing an arcade machine. They didn’t own the machine, but rather paid for the right to play on it for a certain length of time. The clever part being that the time length isn’t fixed, but rather depends on the player’s skill. This incentivises players to improve their skills at the game, so as to get more value per consumable purchased and used. And it sidesteps the feeling of resentment that the game is just for rich people, with no real skill, where you just “pay to win”. Whilst of course still letting people do exactly that.

Everyone wins, in theory. In practice, it’s very difficult for consumers to make an informed choices about their purchases. Developers usually have complete control over the in-game store and accidentally or otherwise, information can be obfuscated or left incomplete. In the past, independent review magazines and websites might have helped bridge the gap. But why spend time finding and reading a review when people can just download the (base) game for free and find out for themselves? With most f2p games, there are a vast number of items on offer, and those items are constantly being tweaked and changed by the developers, making reviews of each item impractical in any case.

It’s painfully obvious why developers take this attitude to f2p, but it really needn’t be all bad. My hope is that more small studios and independent developers get over their f2p hangups and instead innovate and push f2p in new directions. Whilst it doesn’t make sense for every game, f2p is the dominant model in mobile and PC gaming. I for one would like to see more discussion about how to improve f2p, and I hope to add my own experience to that in future games.

Quick Reaction

Totem Topple has now been unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and the initial feedback on the game is starting to trickle in.

To date, when I’ve watched people play the game, I’ve been able to approach them afterwards and quiz them on what they found the game to be like. Those observations have usually been made at gaming events, where there is a very different context to playing the game at home.

It’s been fascinating watching the youtube gameplay videos that have gone up so far. Most have been from reviewers or people I’ve provided with early demo codes prior to release, so they’ve all been around the 5 minute mark long for each mode.

ENEMYUSE

The immediate take home has been that Classic mode is just a touch too hard in the initial phase. People are taking a few minutes to work the game out, but then typically start down a path of maximising rate of fire. People also seem to be using the help section to find the best combinations, which is encouraging.

There’s definitely a need to kill lots of enemies at the start, to build up a good stock of supplies, so players can explore different strategies a bit later. This isn’t necessarily a problem per-se, even if it’s a little prescriptive.

In practice though, it’s obviously a bit too high an initial hurdle to get over. I’ve watched people basically get it, and think to myself “Ok, here we go, they should be alright from here”. Only to be taken out by an unlucky low spawn that goes under their fire.

There’s a number of ways we’ll now look at to solve this:

Extra Tutorial Steps – Including information about wings and increasing rate of fire, so that in the process of jumping through the hoops, the player is pretty much given the answer, at least for defeating the first wave of enemies.

Changing the order of the Heads – During the tutorial, people tend to pick the top left head. And are then prompted to put a beak on said head. Unfortunately, that head is the Owl head, which gives a rate of fire penalty, and is probably the worst head to use.

Slowing Down the Enemies – Slowing down the first wave of enemies will make them easier to hit, and so allow people to at least get a little further into the game, even if their initial strategies aren’t optimal. It’ll also help reinforce the message of shoot enemies, collect supplies, build more stuff.

Furthermore, in Frantic mode, the bird beaks aren’t nearly as useful as in Classic because the enemies are simply moving that bit faster. In some cases, people have even commented that the game is broken, because the arrows look like they’re just passing through the enemies. In fact, the enemy hitbox is just it’s round core, and not the outer spikes, but try telling that to players. To them, it looks like a hit, but there’s no effect. So probably what we’ll do as well is just increase the hitbox size on the easier enemies.

Fortunately, the enemies are set up that changing the earlier spawning enemies won’t affect those spawning later on down the line, so the initial game can be made easier without reducing the challenge of the latter stages. It’ll mean the difficulty curve has a bigger step-jump in the middle section of the game, but that’s likely worth trading off for people to get more into the early game.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to patch at least some of the changes in relatively quickly, since we’re already working to fix one or two other minor issues (especially on the leaderboards). The first patch submission for the game is fairly imminent, so probably won’t include extra tutorial steps, as they would also require translating into French and Spanish. But the rest of the changes will take between 2 weeks and a month to process, and so hopefully be in the game by Christmas!

 

 

 

Totem Topple Release Date

Totem Topple to Launch on Wii U and PC on 19th November 2015

Totem Topple finally has a release date! It will come out on 19th of November on Wii U in North America and Europe, and worldwide on PC via itch.io. For those interested in getting a review copy, email contact |at| crystallinegreen.com Presskit also available

It’ll be interesting to see how the game fares, considering this time of year is traditionally not a good time for small independent titles to get noticed. Usually the airwaves (or twittersphere or whatever passes for mass media these days) are filled with adverts for the latest blockbuster hits hoping to worm their way into people’s Christmas stockings or, for those in the US, their Black Friday shopping baskets!

cheese

(now with extra Christmas!)

In many ways, the Wii U has arguably one of the stronger line-ups in terms of platform exclusives this year, with Xenoblade Chronicles, Mario Tennis and Animal Crossing all launching the day after, or in the weeks after Totem Topple. However, in terms of big cross-platform AAA offerings, the Wii U will be bereft of such titles as the latest Tomb Raider (technically a timed Xbox One exclusive), Star Wars: Battlefront, and Fallout 4.

How much difference that makes will remain to be seen. Perhaps Totem Topple will benefit from being in the new releases section of the Wii U eShop store over what is both a busy time of year, and an extended period when new releases trail off as everyone goes on holiday. Will Wii U owners be spending that time off from work mashing their way through epic open world of Xenoblade Chronicles and not much else? Or will those who are looking for something new (or simply aren’t fans of those existing franchises) take a punt with our little game?

Or do those Wii U owners also own PC’s, PS4′s and Xboxes, which will get booted up to Raid some Tombs or Battle some Fronts or 4 some Fallouts….

There’s also the looming “Nintendo Direct”, (Nintendo’s semi-regular live broadcast announcement show), which will no doubt whip the Nintendo faithful into a furious frenzy of fangirl/boyism. In many ways, it might benefit Totem Topple if the Wii U fan base are energized, but with key franchises like Star Fox still a few months away.

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Equally, there’s still the odd bug or two we’ve spotted since the game was approved by Nintendo. In particular, one issue with the leaderboards we’ve already prepared a patch for, but are still waiting for Nintendo (who in fairness are very busy this time of year) to approve. In that sense, if the game doesn’t get reviewed immediately on launch, it may be the patch gets applied by the time reviewers get round to it, and it’s all for the better.

Whatever happens, its exciting to release our first game for Nintendo systems, and hopefully make some people smile.

Forward Progess

A brief update from here at Crystalline Green HQ:

Exciting times for Totem Topple. We’ve now submitted the game into Nintendo’s Wii U approvals process (aka lotcheck). It takes a few weeks for them to go through everything and probably they’ll spot one or two things that need fixing at our end, so our current thinking is that the game will be released around the end of October or maybe early November. We’ll keep you posted on when we have an exact date!

Meanwhile, we’ve switched back to working on Flight of Light. We’re currently rebuilding the game from the ground up in the latest version of Unity (5.2). After having fixed a few performance issues, the game is now looking better and better graphics wise. I personally feel that as more games come to Wii U using Unity 5′s improved graphics package, Nintendo fans will be pleasantly surprised at what the console is capable of.

FLight of Light WIP 02-10-2015

We’ve still got a way to go to make Flight of Light really shine, but we feel the game is now firmly back on track. Looking ahead, we’re hoping to get a beta of the game finished by the end of December 2015, for release early next year. It means we’ve got our work cut out for us in the meantime, but we’re looking forward to making the game the best it can be and letting fans finally enjoy an (albeit limited) version of the game.

Translation Topple

If you’d like to help with translating Totem Topple, you can do so here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16L93VAZys5cdselM08FRpWKwJoZsXb62kiMlBCRoO4Q/edit#gid=0

Totem Topple is the first game where we’ve gone beyond English and translated the game into different languages. It’s always great for people to be able to enjoy games in their native language. All too often, there’s a touch of cultural arrogance from English speaking developers in assuming that the rest of the world will just deal with the fact the game is in one language only, so it’s nice to break that for once.

Voice and text can add a huge amount to the playing experience, but for those games that don’t have a narrative focus (or maybe even some that do!) it’s often a good idea to design out unnecessary text and voice acting to save cost and effort when translating.

For Totem Topple, voice acting is way outside our budget anyway, and we’ve very much aimed to reduce the amount of text we use. However, in compiling a list of all the words and phrases in the game, we were actually surprised by just how much there was!

Globe_of_language

A lot of the text does not in fact come from the game itself, but rather from things related to the game. Store descriptions and legal notices in the Wii U e-manual in particular have caught us out. It’s easy to add in a few lines of cool sounding description to entice players to buy and download, but that all needs translating if the game isn’t going to look odd and out of place with its English descriptions in amongst everything else in another language. Not to mention putting people off who maybe don’t immediately get the game from the screenshots or box art and then can’t work out what the game is actually about.

The good news is that it’s been technically easy to put the translations in so far. Whilst not perfect, it’s been relatively untroubbling to put in the code that lets us detect different languages and swap out text appropriately. We’ll probably come up against some problems when it comes to German, with its famously long words, and we’ve yet to try out a system for languages written from right to left, such as Arabic and Hebrew. The hope is though, that we can adapt the game as we go along / as we add more languages in the future.

As for sourcing all those different languages, it’s been bitty to say the least. Excited by the prospect of getting fans to help translate the game, and on hearing other devs have good experiences, we’ve posted out the call on twitter and facebook to help. However, there is a lot of text, and some of it is especially dense (the store descriptions) or boring (the e-manual notices about COPPA compliance and privacy policies). Since we’ve been asking people to help us for free, it’s only understandable that they can only give so much time and effort before it loses the fun and starts to feel rather like work. Equally, when we’ve asked friends and family, we’ve tried to use them more for proof-reading and double checking translations from elsewhere (though for one friend, corrections and edits turned out to be rather more work than either of us was expecting!)

missing_some_accentsMissing some accents?

We’ve also tried using resources like Polyglot, which whilst useful, will only get you so far before specialist or theme specific words start to crop up. How many games are there where “Demon spirit enemies are trying to knock your totem pole down”? (I don’t know, but betting Totem Topple is amongst the best of them!)

We’ve also used semi-professional translators from sites like fiverr.com, though it’s always difficult to know just what the quality of the translation is like. Many of those on the site are not individuals but collectives who farm work out, so no guarantee you’ll even get the same person translating next time. It’s cheap, but their work reflects on us, so we have to be very careful.

One area where we’ve tried to go the extra mile is with regional variations. Unlike English, which doesn’t really have dialects and is generally fairly uniform in its grammar and spelling, other languages can vary greatly depending on where or by whom they are spoken. In particular, Spanish of Latin America can be markedly different from that used in Spain itself, so our initial release will in fact have Mexican Spanish for North and Latin America, and European Spanish for European version.

Human_Language_Families_(wikicolors)

What we haven’t done is fully localise the game for specific target markets. Mostly because we feel there isn’t much that we could change beyond superficial stuff like red colour used to mean good things, rather than bad things in China. (We’ve actually tried to avoid using red/green anyway because it’s an issue for many colour blind people).

With any luck though, we can reach the most people possible and through translating the game, bring smiles to the faces of those who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the game.