December 4, 2014

Jordan Coombs

The Mobile Marketplace Has An Integrity Problem

We just received an e-mail that we wanted to share and discuss with our community. This is the tail end of it:

I offer many services concerning your app, if you are interested feel free to contact me. 
1. App Store Ratings & Reviews :Ratings/Reviews Price 
50 ratings and 10 reviews - 99 USD 
75 ratings and 15 reviews - 149 USD 
100 ratings and 25 reviews - 199 USD 
125 ratings and 30 reviews - 249 USD 
150 ratings and 35 reviews - 299 USD 

The premise is paying some fixed amount to receive reviews and ratings for your mobile title - and receive these types of offers almost daily. We have never used these services and we never will. But it does speak to a larger problem: integrity.

The ability to essentially purchase buzz for your game is nothing new, but on the mobile marketplace your rating and reviews are absolutely critical to success. And, to make a baseball analogy, paid reviews are the equivalent of steroids. It's not cheating because it's not illegal but it makes everything you see in the store suspect.

For mobile it has become increasingly a strange world that has nothing to do with "games" as we would classify them. Products built from the ground up to entertain and challenge players. This is just no longer the case. Larger companies build games from the ground up to be money producing machines not based on the merits of the gameplay but on the model of the challenge. IAP aren't inherently bad (there are many great examples of freemium games) but the culture on mobile is always suspect. There is no integrity.

Popularity can be purchased. Reviews and ratings can be fixed. Games sell one model then quickly pull the rug out to reveal much less genuine intentions. None of this is new - but it is becoming increasingly discouraging.

That is not to say this is limited to mobile. This is something that the game culture as a whole is wrestling with as well. GamerGate is all about the integrity of the reviews we are given. Can we trust the numerous sites, blogs and youtubers to give us honest evaluations of our favorite hobby?

One of the things that makes this complex is the rise of indie games. The front page of Steam at any given moment is more than 50% indie titles - which is great. But it also makes it extremely difficult to figure out what is worth the investment. The most interesting element about the state of gaming is that most players don't even play the games they purchase. It's not longer about "can I get it?" - it's about your most valuable asset: time.

And this is why integrity is so important. There are hundreds of titles released and we all only have so much time. Gamers want those amazing experiences: building your first hole in the ground to escape the night in Minecraft; using a uber-medic combo to push your team and the cart to a victory in Team Fortress; getting the shit scared out of you for the first time in Amnesia. Our time is valuable and we want to pour it into the titles that give us the most return on our time investment.

The mobile market place has a serious problem with this right now and the business model isn't helping. The most heartbreaking thing about the whole environment is that could have been the next great mobile platform. Better than the 3DS, more adopted than the PSP and more accessible to indie developers than any other system before. Instead we have a system where discoverability is extremely difficult, reviews are always suspect and a games place on the top 10 chart can simply be purchased instead of earned. That is to say nothing of the copycat of mechanics that, frankly, were well established and refined in the late 90's.

Don't mistake this as us ejecting from mobile development - nothing could be further from the truth. But as gamers and developers we have concerns. We love the potential of the platform and don't really have answers to some of these larger problems. Maybe with time the market will mature and begin to self-regulate itself - who knows.

If there is one silver lining it's the community itself: gamers overall tend to be extremely reasonable, passionate people that really just enjoy having fun. It's rarely about ego, social standing or any other existential facet that can plague other hobbies. We have utter faith that the community will find a way to make things "right" and bring the integrity of gaming back.

That's all. End of rant.


November 21, 2014

Jordan Coombs

The Highs and Lows of Game Development

Deadlines in video game development are tricky things (as many of our fans know). You have to weigh what is good to what can be done in a "reasonable" time frame. To self regulate ourselves we try and focus on external events to apply for - and for the last 2 weeks we have been crunching to submit IndieMegaBooth at PAX East 2015.

For those that don't know, IndieMegaBooth is an organization that takes a group of lesser known indies and get's them booth space at events like PAX, GDC and Gamescom. They are one of the bright stars of the indie development world.

These crunches represent the best and worst in game development.

We got a ton done on the game. We cram as many features in that we can, everyone works very hard and very long hours and does it of their own free will as we are an indie studio and we answer to no one.

Last night we were all in the office working 'til 2:00am to get our game submitted into the Indiemegabooth. As we reached the submission hour our build fell apart - we could not get it to compile - and what we could get to compile wouldn't run. To describe the situation as disappointing would be an understatement.

But this is the challenge of making games. Often times people wonder what the hell we're doing. How can it possibly take so long time one one game? Our approach is that good things take time.

Here is a screenshot of the game with our real time lighting, crew desires and planets. We know the game is fun and we know that our fans will be very happy with Galaxies.

Nights like last night can be extremely discouraging to a team. You work very hard for a very long time on something you are very passionate about - and it doesn't come together how you envisioned. But then we look at what we have done and we see the passion our fans have for our game and we know in the long term it will be worth it.

More is coming very soon. The game is in a fun, playable state and with a couple more weeks of polish we should be looking at a public alpha. That is something we can't wait for. As long as we can get the game to build :)


November 5, 2014

Jordan Coombs

Star Command Galaxies - Now With S.C.I.E.N.C.E!

We just released our first Alpha of S.C.I.E.N.C.E. to our Kickstarters - and we couldn't be more excited!

This represents months (years really) of hard work. We completely changed our engine, our building system, our crew and character system, combat - really everything from the ground up to make a more open, dynamic and exciting Galaxy for our fans to explore.

So What is S.C.I.E.N.C.E?

S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is the same toolkit we use to create content that will populate the game Star Command Galaxies.

The primary function is to create map files that we call "Super Objects." Super Objects are the ships, space-stations, planets and objects that populate the pool we pull from to populate a galaxy. This procedurally/randomly generated galaxy is where our super objects will live.

So when you create a ship, all the walls, tiles, lighting etc and how you set them up are saved as a super object. You will eventually be able to load that super object in the galaxy map and fly around the universe coming across other creations of your own, our creations or ones from the community.

S.C.I.E.N.C.E. will help you create, preview and experiment with lots of different things. Let's say you want to make a scummy forgotten town on the far side of the universe, and you start with designing a cantina. You could layout your bar, dance floor and band stand, save the file and then you would have the option to load that super object into any planet scene you create.

This will eventually lead to deep and interesting environments to explore with your starship crew. Truly unexplored areas that dynamically populate cities with their own inhabitants, structures, economies and dangers.

This is the first step in our roll out of Star Command Galaxies, the next chapter in the Star Command saga. It will be released for PC, Mac and Linux and more information including a new website, gameplay, features and other info will be coming soon.

We will be releasing S.C.I.E.N.C.E to the public after we do some initial bug squashing and feature testing/fixes.

More coming soon!


September 19, 2014

Parker Coombs

Ship Inventory and Store interfaces

Parker here! I'm one of the designers here at Warballoon.

I wanted to give you all an update on what we are working on and show you how game concepts change over time. Interfaces have the potential make a game really good - or really bad. We are often borrowing from well known and polished examples found in some of our favorite games. For a starting point of our building interface we took a look at Civ 5.
Civ 5's build system shines at relaying a lot of information but without being an overwhelming wall of text and options. The interface is capable of giving most building's bonuses readily while still relaying important modifiers for the city. New players are given recommendations using small icons and can play accordingly.

Here is our first attempt at a build screen. Items are grouped in categories relating to function, and more information regarding power use and added effects are given using mouse-overs.

We also took some inspiration from another well polished inventory system, that of Dota 2's.

DOTA2 has a more visual system, with icons used to represent every item and all the information given in mouse-over. We tried to incorporate aspects of this, mainly the icon system and categorical sorting functions. However, there is a higher learning curve for players as they attempt to guess an object's purpose and effects by it's icon. Experienced players simply buy the item they want by knowing it's icon, while inexperienced players are able to mouse-over. 

The environment is a fairly high Actions Per Minute style RTS, really hurting new players who are forced to make decisions in real time. DOTA's remedy to this is a "recommended buy-build" system where players can edit, download and share builds which helps make the game more accessible.

Our first attempt at implementing some of the Dota 2 store features.

Our latest iteration enhances sort-ability further, so that players can quickly figure out how objects would affect your ship's function and performance. Further play-testing will tell us if this helps new players overcome the learning curve of identifying ship objects by its icon. 

More to come next week!


September 11, 2014

Tim Anderson

You can make anything with SCIENCE!

Howdy everyone!  I'm Tim, a developer here at Warballoon, where we know how awesome designing/building/modding a game truly can be.  Today, I'm going to talk to you about a new breakthrough coming in the not-too-distant future, S.C.I.E.N.C.E.

I like science!  Wait, what is it?
Well, bold-face font, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. is the Star Command Isometric Enhanced New Creation Editor, which is our modding tool for the community to use.  It is a way for you to design new objects and add them into the game for you and your friends to visit and/or use.  Simply put: build things, create worlds, share it all, expand the universe.

Good tag line, but how does it work?
Once you open up S.C.I.E.N.C.E., you can choose what you would like to build.  You can build such things as Ships, Planets, Objects, and Characters.  Once you have chosen what you would like to build, you are given a graphical interface to develop it with.  This allows you to draw your objects, set up walls on your ship, or even add in Flora and Fauna to your new volcano planet.

Can these objects/ships/planets do anything, or do they just look pretty?
Perhaps you want your new object to emit radiation, or you want your new ship to have beautiful Avarian architecture.  No worries, S.C.I.E.N.C.E. has your back.  You can set properties for each object such as how much power it will take, or how obnoxiously loud it will be to deafen nearby crew members.  You can also bring in sets of alien architecture to work with your design, allowing you to make various alien ships.  Ever wanted to see an Antorian Cruise Ship or a Midorian Trade Cruiser?  This is your chance to make that a reality!

Neat, I made something.  Now what?
So you've finished your new Ship/Planet/Object of Doom and you want to share your new scientific creation with the world, possibly via email or at a large conference.  Well then, it's time to Export it into a game readable format.  Currently, we're looking at both LUA and XML as potential export options, and have tested both.  Here's a little of what the ship looks like in LUA format currently.

And here's what the ship itself looks like post-creation.

How much is this new S.C.I.E.N.C.E. going to cost me?
At Warballoon, we believe in sharing all of our new S.C.I.E.N.C.E. with the community.  So how much does it cost?  In a word, nothing.  In five words, it will cost you nothing.  Rather, it will be a free download for everyone on the planet, separate from Star Command: Galaxies.

I'd like to challenge your hypothesis on this new S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
The tool is still somewhat in development and we are always open to fantastic new ideas.  What would you like to see in the tool, and what questions do you have about it? Tell us on Facebook and Twitter. We're always listening. Always. (Cue creepy music....)

Remember, you can make anything with S.C.I.E.N.C.E!

September 3, 2014

Jordan Coombs

Upcoming Mobile Update

We have been super busy and wanted to take a second to catch our mobile fans up on the status of Star Command.

We are currently beta testing mobile and wanted to talk about the features that will be coming up for mobile. So peel back your eyelids and check it:

We have upgraded the entire engine to Cocos3.0 - which means support for Windows Phone! Star Command will be coming to Windows phone for the next update! Live in the shadows no more Windows users.

The next big thing is the new combat engine. You will now be free to roam the galaxy with the ability to choose when you get into battles. We have removed all mini-games in free roam mode and now players will be able to target each enemy subsystem during battles.

With the introduction of free roam you will now be hunting the remnants of the Star Command fleet - pirates! Pirates will offer much more challenge to you with abilities like healing, grenades and other surprises for your crew.

Give your crew the latest and greatest in gear with kits! Gravity boots and flamethrowers will be the first items out of the gate to help your crew navigate the new dangers in the galaxy.

So now that you can go where you want, when you want and give your crew new gear you're gonna need some new friends! How about man's best friend? Bam. Done.

Dr. Klebaticus Science Lab is the newest room in Star Command (Kickstarters will have instant access to this) that you can discover in the galaxy. Dr. Klebaticus has been working on secret experiments - and now you can benefit! Reanimate the dead? DO IT!

As you can tell we have a lot of new features. So when you ask the logical next question: "WHEN?" you will understand when we answer: "When it's done beta testing." We have a new platform, lot's of new features and, therefore, lots of new bugs and play balancing issues.

Love to hear your thoughts though! Send us a tweet @starcommandgame or visit our facebook page.

More from mobile and Galaxies soon!


July 30, 2014

Jordan Coombs

Strange New Worlds

We are a live and working extremely hard. We will have a video up next week showing the new ship building system, but for today here is some concept art. Should start to spark the imagination of where we are going....