Sunday, 25 February 2018

Back to Maaaarrrr-gate - GEEK 2018 in review

Lead artist Matthew's thoughts on Bullion's second visit to GEEK expo...

Bullion is back from GEEK 2018, held at Dreamland in Margate, Kent. For Bullion’s second outing at GEEK, we were greeted by some familiar faces at the indie dev area, as well as a few newcomers. This year, Bullion brought a plethora of new features to the event. For starters, we have a second playable map in development, Salty Swamp, which players could test out along with Paul’s magnificently clever AI players, allowing individuals and smaller groups to get the full Bullion experience for the first time. We also debut an overhauled menu screen, featuring my pirate ship model.

Our little bit of GEEK...

With the stand set up Friday morning, I took a glimpse at the entrance to see a queue right up the hill, almost onto the street! Players of all ages flocked to the stand to try out Bullion. Young players were grasping the gameplay quickly, and with some brief explanation from us, even less gaming-inclined parents were picking up the controls and having fun with their families, and occasionally grabbing surprise wins over their kids!

First "full crew" of the day

Paul preps a crew for action

Unlike the publically untested build from GEEK 2017, this version of Bullion proved much more stable, with only a few minor technical issues, most quickly vanquished by Ben in the evenings while the event was closed.

The indie people’s vote returned once again, and despite competing against more than 10 titles, most much closer to release, we still scooped 3rd place like last year! Even with the friendly competition between titles, the indie developers were very supportive of their fellow creators, trying out and giving feedback on each other’s games, as well as going out for dinner together on the Saturday night like one big indie family.

Bullion continued to prove popular all weekend, with players bring along friends to experience the game, guests from last year returning and remembering us, and even small queues and crowds forming, waiting patiently for the next round. It is incredible to see that Bullion can hold attention this well, with less busy games, an amusement arcade, and even Nintendo game setups not proving enough to distract them from trying Bullion.

We got the Stormtroopers' attention...

Young buccaneers take on Salty Swamp

Our guests provided valuable feedback on the game, letting us know what they enjoyed, and any suggestions they had. We were glad to see that most critique we received is already in the pipeline to be dealt with, such as requests for faster movement already planned for the faster moving Bovy Jones, our next bovine buccaneer to be playable.

We knew that Bullion was on the right track when we saw how often players would sit and enjoy multiple matches. Not just kids, but kids at heart, parents and fellow developers all were invested enough to go for rematches against their friends and our computer-controlled cattle corsairs.

Age doesn't matter - smiles do!

Our 6th GEEK - awesome as ever!

With plenty of praise, much fewer bugs experienced, and lots of happy players of all ages, the Bullion team set sail for home from another successful GEEK show. Seeing how much joy the game brings to players young and old makes all our hard work worthwhile. With our most common question being “When will this be released?” we are dedicated to continue developing Bullion, with lots more content planned, including new characters, new maps and modes. Our ride home was filled with brainstorming for the next phases of development, and we are just as excited as the players to see what we can get ready for next year, as well as any other shows Bullion may visit in 2018.

Massive thanks all around to the GEEK hosts, Dreamland’s staff, our indie developer family, and most of all the players who took the time to give Bullion a try.

I’m looking forward to GEEK 2019 already!

This year marks six consecutive years of Leda Entertainment exhibiting at GEEK Expo - once again, thanks to all the amazing people who work so hard to make it happen!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Setting Course for 2018!

As we boldly voyage into the waters of 2018, it's time for a good old review-and-reflect on what last year brought us, and hopes for the year ahead...

Last year was Bullion's debut year in front of the public - okay, we announced it back in September 2016, and for about two-thirds of the year we we running on what was effectively a prototype of the first island, polished up and wrapped in enough placeholders and hacks to be demonstrable. But the feedback we received from the various events we showed it at proved that the "slow-agile" process is working; we have been able to revise our plans and expectations on the run and continually improve both the concepts and the technical sides of the game (even if it did mean several large rewrites of the code!)...

GEEK was definitely a highlight of 2017, and also where we started realising just how fortunate we were having Matthew and Ben H on board; both stepped up and ensured that we had all the 3D art, animation and sound/music assets required to get us demo-ready, and then joined us on the stand at the show. And despite a large number of bugs being found (prompting the largest of the aforementioned rewrites), pretty much everyone who played that first demo had only positive things to say. Taking third place in the show's Indie Awards was an added bonus!

Our other "big" show of the year was, of course, Play Expo in Manchester, by which time we had had a chance to address all the issues that had come up at GEEK (albeit by the skin of our teeth), and also start replacing some of the placeholder sections with more finalised work. Again, loads of great feedback, and we fulfilled a long-standing dream when Jeff Minter - creator of games that inspired us back in the 90s when then-Ledasoft Developments was first starting out - came and played. It was just a shame that Matthew and Ben H could not be there this time, but given the situation (Ben H having returned to the USA and the short notice of the decision to go), it was not a surprise. Maybe this year...

We also had a number of smaller events: WeGeek in London resulted in a highly-polished video interview, and Reading and Aylesbury Comic-Cons gave us a chance to catch up with Noaksey - indie affectionado extrodinaire and friend of Leda Entertainment since our breakthrough with Bopscotch at GEEK 2014. These smaller shows were no less valuable than the "big" ones as they offered plenty of opportunity to network with other developers, and also spend time chatting with those who had played the game, getting more detailed feedback to fuel the next wave of development.

However, 2017 also brought its share of frustrations, mainly related to the speed that the project is going at and team communication. Bullion is Leda Entertainment's first 3D project, and by the start of 2017 we had already learned enough to significantly revise our rather insane initial expectations (four fully animated characters and two islands in six months!) into something more realistic. But thanks to the team maxim off "life comes first", we ended up having to re-plan in such a way that various pieces of work were left dangling in limbo, rather than being completed and plugged into the game. Nobody's fault, but none-the-less, very frustrating, especially when the most-often asked question at the expos had been "when will this be coming out?". At the same time, we had also realised that we were going to need to find Matthew some assistance, and we do have a number of other artist/animators in various states of engagement with the project - but with the high bar set by Matthew's work to date, it is proving challenging to meet that need! Again, maybe this year we will get a breakthrough...

Life events had a huge impact on the team: Ben H had study commitments for a number of months in the first half of the year, following which he ended up having to return to the USA - however, he had made it clear that he is determined to stick with Bullion and is just waiting for his situation to settle down... once again, we realise just how fortunate we have been with those working with us on Bullion! And similarly, Winter's job situation meant she has had to step back before she could really get involved - so that's another hope for the year ahead: that she will the able to join back in at some point. Add in family, health and other employment/work related issues, and 2017 ended up being considerably more challenging than anticipated! But once again, the slow-agile process has allowed us to revise our plans and keep things moving.

So what's next? Well, GEEK 2018 is looming on the horizon, and once again it looks like it will take a big push to get the next round of features ready in time... but we will keep on adapting, revising and updating, and see just what can be done in the six-and-a-half weeks we have left. In the longer term... well, hopefully we will have the people in place to pick up the pace and forge ahead into 2018. Ultimately, we hope to have some kind of early-access preview available at some point this year... here's hoping that the winds and tides favour us!