So it's been a couple of months since we first let the public loose on Bullion at GEEK, and given we are still very much in a pre-alpha-preview state, the response was overwhelmingly positive: third place in the indie awards at the show was the icing on the cake, and since then we've seen a few write ups either of the event (with Bullion mentioned), or about the game itself (this one is probably our favourite).
However, as every game dev crew is aware, the chances are that when you let the public loose on your game, a whole load of bugs you never saw before will come up. By taking the pre-alpha of Bullion to GEEK, we decided to embrace this; not only would we get feedback on what people thought was good and/or bad, we would also be able to find and hopefully kill some bugs before they became real problems.
... or at least, that was the theory. And while there were no real showstoppers on the day, there were certainly a few more deeper-rooted problems than we anticipated - the infamous "teleporting dead cow" bug, for example - and Ben managed to cover most of the back of the pop-up banner with post-it notes detailing bugs.
So we have had to take a step back and are currently in the process of re-working some large chunks of the game: not just to fix the bugs, but also to clean up the code, get rid of the blatant hacks that were put in to get us over the line for GEEK, and make things more maintainable going forward. Ain't agile development fun?!?
But this is also giving us some great opportunities too - for example, alongside the big code refactor, we are also looking at game's "heart beat" - an engine that we hope will make the game respond to how the players are playing, and possibly even give us the foundations for a single-player campaign mode.
And the crew has grown too! Last year we were joined by audio designer Ben Hill (yup, another Ben, just to add to the chaos), whose sound effects and epic title track added a huge level of life and depth to the game, and following this year's Global Game Jam, 3D artist Winter Mraz has signed up to work with Matthew in giving the characters and world of Bullion their distinctive comic flavour.
There's still loads to do, but given the response we've had so far, we've got high hopes for the future, and GEEK 2018!
Saturday, 25 February 2017
Paul talks about GEEK 2017 - Bullion's first expo...
Back to reality, exhausted but satisfied from our fifth year at GEEK - a festival of gaming culture held in the tired but re-awakening English seaside town of Margate. GEEK is unlike other expos that we have presented at - with the emphasis more on the fun of participation and creation, the event has a stronger family-oriented theme than something like PAX or EGX. With LARP and cosplay, model-making and arts and crafts, pinball and video games new and old, there's something for everyone. GEEK is a family, and it shows in the love everyone has for what they are doing - from the Pac-Man ghost logo for the event, prominently displayed in bedroom windows, to installing Mario Kart in dodgem cars, this is clearly an event arranged by our kind of people.
The Indie Zone was placed directly inside the main entrance. This I feel was a mixed blessing. The prominence was great - rather than being tucked away in a corner, the indie games were right there as people arrived. This showed a great deal of trust and belief on the part of the organisers for which we are truly grateful, and spoke to the theme of GEEK being as much about the fun of making games as playing them. It meant that everyone came past us at some point and knew where to find us when they wanted another go. But there were drawbacks. Once people were past us, they might not return until they were leaving - tired and perhaps not in the mood for playtesting; so we'd need to be on ouir A-game when doors opened, and things would get rather quiet by mid-afternoon whereas in previous years it would be madcap until end of day. Standing on a hard floor all day near the open doors in February made for a chilly and tiring experience. The brightly lit corridor lacked the classic arcade feel of the dingy grunginess of the old Winter Gardens venue - our screens somehow not as enticing in the new environment. It felt off somehow to be so separated from the classic, retro and modern video games which were oddly divorced from the main action, hidden away in a separate hall that meant visitors had to walk outside through the closed-up Dreamland park to reach. I found myself acting as unofficial steward for the event, directing disappointed people towards what for many is the main draw of GEEK. Let's hope this didn't put too many visitors off for next year. I anticipate better signage or a change of layout in 2018.
GEEK was the first outing for Leda Entertainment's latest game Bullion, and the first event for our new teammates Matthew (art) and Ben (sound). Nothing beats watching the joy spread on the faces of people playing a game you created, but seeing Matthew and Ben's reactions to that - the enthusiasm with which they interacted with the public, and their delight at people enjoying their hard work - came a close second. It was great to see that the lessons we learned with Bopscotch - bright, loud, colourful, silly rather than gory - carried across to Bullion. It was rewarding to be placed 3rd in the "best Indie" public vote with Bullion at just its pre-Alpha stage, compared against released titles.
It’s not just about gauging the reception of the game with the public, though. Watching others play, you see things - bugs and features - you might not otherwise notice when you play your own game. The controller has 2 joysticks and a D-pad, which do I use? The sword is in his right hand, so clearly it's the controller's right shoulder button to swing it, yeah? Standing back and being an observer shows affords you the head-space to discover the things you thought were obvious but aren't. During the first day alone, we covered the back of our pop-stand with bugs we'd not spotted ourselves, and aimprovements suggested by the public or that came to us watching others play. The feedback we received was unanimously positive, and it was heartening that nobody put down a controller and walked away mid-game.
A highlight of GEEK this year for me was the incredible camaraderie between the Indie developers. In past years we might have looked on eachothers' games, had a brief chat about our journey and maybe played for a few minutes. This year, as well as that, we not only had banter on the trade floor, but we booked out a local restaurant for an evening of great conversation and fellowship.
GEEK was again an overwhelmingly positive experience, and I can’t wait to return in 2018.