Super Snow Fight in ID@Xbox program

It’s been a while I posted a new blog entry. Sorry for that. A lot has happened and I will upload some more information about the current state of Super Snow Fight soon. But for now the most important news is that Super Snow Fight will be part of the ID@Xbox program! :) Yesterday Jan Klose from Deck13 announced this at Quo Vadis Game Developer Conference in Berlin. So Deck13 (the developer of Lords of the Fallen) is an ID@Xbox publisher now and releases four titles: Sky Arena by Hammer Labs, Hovercubes by Gametology, Shift Happens by Klonk Games, and Super Snow Fight. :) Check out the following tweet and let’s party!

Designing the HUD

I remember the year 2008 when I visited the Games Convention in Leipzig. Dead Space There was this one game that really impressed me with its heads-up display. I’ve never seen such a HUD in a video game before. The extraordinary thing about this HUD was that there was no HUD. It was Dead Space. A science-fiction horror survival shooter you might have heard of. If not, you should definitely grab a copy. Visceral Games, the creators of Dead Space, made an awesome job by integrating all information the player needs into the actual world of the game. No icons, no text, nothing is seen in any corner of the screen when you play the game. It’s hard to do a better job when it comes to immersion. When I grabbed the controller and looked at the screen I was hooked from the very first second. Of course the question arises how the player knows how many hitpoints he has left or if he needs to reload. You know that all the time. You just have to look at your character’s suit. A filled pipe on Isaac’s (the main character in Dead Space) suit demonstrates his life. When you aim with your gun, a hologram above it shows the current ammunition. It’s just perfect for games of that kind.

Super Smash BrosWell, Super Snow Fight is not a game of that kind. When I thought about the heads-up display in Super Snow Fight, games like Super Smash Bros or Mario Kart came into my mind. You see a portrait of you character somewhere on the screen. Next to this image you can see your hitpoints, your snowballs and your current power up. Smash Brothers by default shows every player information on the bottom of the screen. In Mario Kart you can see your power up in the corner of the screen. This works pretty well. So I thought, I can use this style for Super Snow Fight. I tried it with the bottom. It didn’t work. What about the corners? Did not work either. I was surprised. Playing the game with a heads-up display like that is less fun and you even might get angry at some point. Why? Because you don’t have the time to look away from your character or your target. Well, maybe I am too slow, but then I am not the only one. When I had to look away from my character, I noticed how fast the action of the game actually is. You need to know your hitpoints, your ammo, your power up and everything about your opponent immediately. As soon as you look away from the action on the screen, you can’t aim or move or decide when to use your power up. It’s not even a second, but that’s enough time to get hit by another player or, what’s even worse, lose focus. When you get distracted you’re an easy target, your aiming gets worse and you get frustrated. In a very short while you’ll stop playing and won’t come back. A nightmare. Crazy how important a well-designed HUD really is.

HUD bottom HUD corner
The solution is a HUD that is attached to the player’s character. Health and ammunition is below your character and the power ups are items above the character or a particle effect somewhere attached to it. To this date there are only three power ups implemented. When you pick one up, you see its corresponding model above your character’s head. Using the power up starts a little particle effect. This way everyone knows what’s going on with your little guy. Also everyone knows how many hitpoints and ammo you have left. And when you are reloading, i.e. grabbing some snowballs, your character bends down. So animations can also provide enough information. Things you don’t usually think about when you play a game, but you definitely have to think about when you design one by yourself.

New HUD in Super Snow Fight New HUD in Super Snow Fight
Of course this solution is nothing new. You can see a health bar on every unit in every real-time strategy game. Every role-playing game has particle effects to show the characters buffs or debuffs. And even Mario Kart shows power ups or special weapons on the driver, e.g. a banana peel attached to the kart. Thinking about and designing the heads-up display just reminded me of the ways video games are made. There are no rules. Nothing is carved in stone. You can mix features and designs of any genre, and that’s simply amazing.

Presenting your Indie Game

I have to admit, I was nervous and not really prepared, but still I wanted to show the current state of my indie game – and it felt great.

The independent game developer scene is not very big in my area. Actually there’s only one MeetUp group I found close to my place, so I decided to go there. I came in early hoping to chat with the organizers, asking them how things usually work in these evenings and if they have any agenda. They don’t. It’s quite casual. If you have something to show, go for it. So after everyone introduced themselves it was time to start presentations. I did not want to rush things because I was one of the new guys, but everyone was okay with that. Okay.. take a deep breath.. do it! I made a new build the day before the event, put it online and had a copy ready on my USB flash drive. But I didn’t bring my laptop, because I really didn’t think about getting a chance to present the game. So thanks to @CWolf I could borrow one for the little show. The internet connection sadly was pretty slow, so it would take too long to load the game. That’s why it was a very good idea to bring the flash drive. I started the game, fingers crossed, long loading times, and the main menu appeared. So far, so good. Now I have to say something about the game. Anything. I wasn’t prepared for that so I said something about development times, features that are planned, what kind of game Super Snow Fight is in general and what you can do in the game so far. For me the best part was that we actually played the game together. Since Super Snow Fight offers local multiplayer, three guys were able to play against eachother in deathmatch. This was an experience I did not have before, because mostly I play the game alone against the AI or at most with one friend. It was a great chance to see how people play, how they react and how hard or easy the game is for them. What’s even better: People seemed to actually like the game. They laughed! Brilliant! And they said it’s fun!

After playing two rounds, the audience told me what they think about the game, asked some short questions and even gave me tips how to improve parts of the game. It was awesome. Thanks a lot everyone who was there. It was a really great experience. I’m looking forward to meet everyone again. But after this unprepared presentation, my energy level dropped to zero. ;)

That’s why I want to give everyone short tips, how your presentation might be more comfortable:

  1. Prepare your speech. Seems obvious, but it can really help to think about what you want to tell your audience beforehand. Rehearsing your words at home helps to get a feeling when you should pause to take a breath and when you should take a break from talking and simply show something ingame.
  2. Bring a laptop, if you have one. And think about your display ports. A Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapter might come in handy for the projector.
  3. Put your game on several devices or platforms. Upload it to your server, bring a flash drive, maybe even a CD or DVD, just in case.
  4. Test your current build! If features don’t work or the game crashes, you have to leave them out or restart your game. This takes time, your audience gets sleepy and you get nervous.
  5. Prepare some questions. Events like these are perfect to test your game ideas and ask people what they think about them. These people know this stuff, did it already and can really help to improve your indie game.
  6. Bring something to write with. A laptop, a notebook, a tablet, anything. A smartphone might be too small. You will get new ideas during your presentation, you will see bugs and you probably won’t be able to remember everything.
  7. Drink still water. If your speech takes longer, you need to drink something. And with still water, you won’t have to burp. Drink your coke afterwards.
  8. Prepare some slides. If you want to explain features or development issues before you start your game, it’s nice to have some slides ready in PowerPoint, Keynote or whatever. And always remember: Images say more than 1000 words. Always show more images on your slides and less words.

Okay, I think that’s it so far. Of course there’s a lot more you can do like sleeping well, don’t be drunk and have a shower, but I think this is common sense. If you have any opinions on that or more tips for the speakers, please tell me! Feel free to add your comment below.

If your interested in the MeetUp Group Independent Game Developers Rhein-Main, you can join it here.