Showing Forgotten Ball at EGX 2015

2015-09-27 12.50.56

Forgotten Ball is my first game, and EGX is my first expo. It cost a chunk, and was good, but of course there were some lessons to be learnt.

September 24-27th, Forgotten Ball and I were at EGX; positioned opposite Team17, and next to Gunnihlation and Starship Mechanic. This was a nice spread as both games either side were not exactly similar games so I didn’t feel like I was in competition with them for attention, of course I was but not that much really.

I didn’t know what to expect at EGX, I knew it attracted big numbers, but yet still I didn’t know. Once there I couldn’t fault the foot traffic, it is a very busy place but with a noticeable 10-12 lull. This was the early-bird 10-11 hour which must have been limited to say a 1000 people or so, then the rest (aka the stampeed) came in at 11am. The majority rushed for the big games (with up to 3 hour waiting queues), which hit home that the indie section for 95% of the people there is an after thought.

The cost of attending this kind of event was for me just shy of £1500 (food/hotel included) which is a fair amount of cash, I haven’t made that back. I don’t think I expect too either, but it’s a cost that should be shared. Really I just wanted to go to one of these events, meet other devs and say hi to people whom backed Forgotten Balls Kickstarter, or whom I have talked to on forums/twitter. So in that sense it was worth it really.

So perhaps I went into EGX without a clear goal at least not a Forgotten Ball goal, and I should have. I didn’t really know this beforehand but the majority of exbitors in the indie section whom I talked to were doing for set reasons, at least as far as I could ascertain:

  • find publisher
  • promote upcoming game (one which is in development/has publisher).
    • games on Kickstarter
    • games on Greenlight
  • talk to investors
  • speak to press

I hadn’t thought about any of the above; a publisher just seemed silly for Forgotten Ball (I just guessed unrealistic), Kickstarter has been and gone, and the game was made, so investors would be a waste right now. I missed the boat with Forgotten Ball’s Greenlight; it had not started when I was at EGX, I was just too stretched. Mistake.

I didn’t got to EGX to speak to press, I’m naturally anxious, but yeah a tip going forward would be to email every press/blog/youtuber whom are going to arrange a chat/interview/drink whatever. I should have been more proactive, I should have chased down meetings but I didn’t, of course people noticed Forgotten Ball resulting in some bits here, here, here, here, here and here.

In short, press I could have pushed harder for meetings, lesson learnt. Still, not terrible though.

The environment was dark, I mean like weirdly dark.

EGX Rezzed section was dark, whereas Megabooth and Leftfield collections appeared more light, spacious and yeah I feel like I paid for the short straw – I didn’t know about Megabooth, or Leftfield until it was too late of course no guarantee I’d get in either but that’s irrelevant.

2015-09-27 09.34.12 2015-09-27 09.34.26

I think it is highly unlikely that I will be going to EGX again with a small budget game but Rezzed standalone is something I would could consider doing every year and even then it’s still expensive. The perks of meeting people whom want to play video games is barely quantifiable, but it made me feel good.

I released Forgotten Ball on the 23rd of September and EGX started on the 24th, my attention was split, and I can not for certain ascertain whether EGX helped with sales, or it was just the launch spike. I’m a little annoyed about that. There was around 150 sales over the EGX expo. With attention divided I didn’t respond to all press emails quickly, and I probably didn’t email enough press. I’m a little bummed about that. Don’t release your game over an expo; I guarantee someone out theres finds a game breaking bug (which they did, twice!).

What struck me was people stopping to take pictures of the stand with artwork by @thatkimparker. I liked that, most of which followed by taking a flyer – I didn’t see many people do that at other stands. I love this poster, personally; I mean light, clear, minimal clean; pretty much what I envisioned. Part of the dark problem I spoke of earlier, is probably down to everyones posters being different shades of black.

Rezzed-JoshuaCroft-Forgotten Ball

So in hindsight, although I doubt I will ever be able to justify going bigger but a single stand just wasn’t enough, there wasn’t enough space and continually the games monitor was blocked.  That was disheartening, a stand is roughly a meter wide and with 3 developers per a stand it was crowded at best. 1.2 meter space with 3 people in front of each game; I don’t need to explain that problem.

So with all the games vying for peoples attention; I added in an idle animation you know to try and get more peoples’ attention – it did work. But it wasn’t like 1,000,000 people saw it and formed a queue.

So EGX has lots of people, and lots of people wanting to play games. Seeing a queue build up of people wanting to play was awesome, but asking someone to stop playing was not.

Taking a step back Forgotten Ball made the top 10 selling games on Google Play Store, it was ignored by Apple like it was some kind of disease and generated organic discussion on numerous sites all over the world – it was all sorts of emotions. Really, I am quite proud. Another thing, before I forget people came back to play Forgotten Ball, and show friends/partners, I mean that was cool to.

I get messages from people who have really enjoyed Forgotten Ball; it’s a 4, almost 5 hour game and for someone to sit down and enjoy Forgotten Ball on whatever mobile device they’re on makes it worth it.

I’ll round of with some quick thoughts, you know, TL/DR

  • The place was dark
  • The place was cramped
  • People are cool
  • People who want to play your game are cooler
  • It was costly – I didn’t plan ahead.
  • Needed to define a demo timespan, some people played for a long time.
  • Go in with a plan, make connections early.
  • If you see someone on Twitter whom is going, tweet them meet them. I did this, it was cool.
  • Go vote for Forgotten Ball on greenlight

I might add to this.

Narrated play through of area one of Forgotten Ball on mobile (iPhone 5)

Last update of the month from me (I realise this would be the third post this month! sorry). Lots of progress over a short period of time (nice lull between exams and thesis start) so I feel like I have more to show.

I haven’t done a video like this before, really I’m just showing where I am and what has changed. The video is out of focus at times, but it’s still okay. Really, I just wanted to show the in game menu, at around 1:45. and show you all how it is looking on mobile platform.

Wait, when I say things are perfect – I mean I am very very happy with them.

..after Kickstarter

Forgotten Ball is coming along very well. I’m now adding the final environment to the game so that the game can look nice from start to finish. Some of this I admit is being built on the fly, so it might not be super final.

I have a choice of gameplay mechanics which I’ve designed but sadly I don’t have all the space for them to do them justice. In testing performance took a nasty hit on some some elements so I had to make compromises, this has been a harsh lesson learnt here when targeting multiple devices. I am really conscious of this and once the final areas are complete I will be revisiting every area of gameplay so that I believe Forgotten Ball is fulfilling a standard that I am setting for it.

Horrible video, but this shows an old area getting some new love:

I really should have perhaps kept a before shot.

Giving away a pre-alpha demo was a good idea. I get feedback, I get bugs reported to me, I get confirmation that the game is enjoyable. It has pretty much caused me to rewrite a lot of code and fix some shitty bugs I didn’t know were there.

In keeping with changes, I have made a lot of changes to Forgotten Ball and honestly these are best shown in a large image. I will compose one this forthcoming week. There have been 3 additional areas added, and there is a genuine reason to this. I need to limit amount of content on screen at certain times, in these dense areas of lots of geometry it makes sense to add some lesser demanding (on GPU) content to separate out the more demanding areas.

I don’t want to enforce on myself any kind of content lock as frankly I plan on adding as much awesome to the game as possible right up till delivery date. I need to also start to really think about a release plan, and promotional things. I am a very busy one man team and writing blogs/doing videos isn’t something I have much time for, in fact I have none. I can really appreciate that they actually might help me in the long run too.

So I will also try and make one blog post a week.

Norwich Game Festival, after thoughts.

I wanted to write up my thoughts on Sunday, as it was a new experience very different from what I expected, and frankly I was very scared. It’s not a great topic, but this showing of my game was another step for me to overcome my anxiety. I suffer with anxiety, and have done for many years. I’ve never done such a thing like showing Forgotten Ball to the public, and I had been pretty unsettled by the thought. I’ve been developing Forgotten Ball for many years alone, not in a bad way just it’s a one man project and in turn not many people have seen Forgotten Ball, so I didn’t know what to expect. However these feelings all came to pass when a young lady sat down to play, not kidding this was a turning point.

Forgotten Ball is minimalist, it’s built with primitives and I did this to negate the expense of 3D assets, and that the game design doesn’t allow for expensive assets (iPhone/open world). Forgotten Ball has a large draw distance, lots of things to see and in turn I had to optimise this as well as I could. I also really like cubes.

I created Forgotten Ball as a game I want to play; a throwback to the generation of games when I grew up, the games that enticed, punished and celebrated with you. I think, when I see the look of determination on a players face, I know I have hit my primary goal, but I also saw that I was far away from a complete game in many other aspects.

The importance of people playing your game couldn’t be overstated. I can remember how crucial user testing was on Killzone Mercenary, but now in my own development shoes – now that I have something playable – I need to schedule user testing as much as possible. The first batch of players were in some ways the guinea pigs, the testers as it were. They caused me to make some key changes early Sunday, to a demo that didn’t crash once, and all but a couple played to completion – I am proud of this.

The first players made me change the following:

  • The game during ‘story look at’ moments force the controls to be disabled and some dialogue appears, sometimes there is an animation etc. In a 10 minute demo, this happened 6 times. That wasn’t acceptable, no matter what I’m trying to show the player. It now happens twice. I need to get better at this story business.

  • I halved the intro, literally halved it. I have a simple AI intro to the game where nothing happened, so I got rid of it. It wasn’t necessary and there is nothing worse than seeing boredom on a players face. A demo should be straight into the action.

    • So should I no longer show a demo as the opening of the game? I don’t think so, I don’t think many demos are that.

  • People didn’t understand certain aspects, and thought they could do things they couldn’t. I have made it so they could do some of those things, they were great shouts, even though they didn’t realise they were making them.

  • I have a section where you drop down into a lower section, players continually tried to trick jump up, they couldn’t do this. Maybe I will make this more obvious, maybe players should have to experiment more, I don’t want to spoon feed the player.

  • People died a lot, but it’s such a simple game that people continued to keep going. I asked why, and the response was coherent, they wanted to know how to get past it.

Opinion was split on the story, some hated, some liked. I need to make a decision here. Forgotten Ball is either a story based platformer, or it is not. I can’t please everyone, but I can make a choice.

  • Controls need an inactive prompt when a story is being told (few, and far between now). I hope this will alleviate any confusion of why a player can’t move.

  • Get a narrator in before September. This is essential if I really am going to take the plunge on EuroGamer.

  • Text was too small, this is a bug from the iOS build I should have seen it earlier but it needs to be done.

I built in Xbox controller support, its basic but it’s there. I don’t think I would have had half as many sit down and play without that. I thank the staff asking me if I had Xbox controller support early in the week when I went down to check it out. One thing is for sure, Xbox controls are there to stay.

I really enjoyed talking to interested kids on making games, I think I was the youngest developer there or close to, which maybe hinted that I was more approachable, I don’t know; I certainly was the least prepared. One thing I can say is that showing how easy it is to build something in Unity, coupled with peoples love for Minecraft; has inspired a few young children and parents to go home to learn in Unity’s game engine. The look of joy on a young boys face when I showed him the simple tools of building Cubes and applying textures in Unity3D. I also spoke highly of GameMaker, I have never used it, but people love it so couldn’t rule it out.

I really wish I had a badge to give away to everyone who played, or completed the demo. That would have been nice to do, but I could see people really did feel accomplished when getting to the end, but I wanted to reward them more.

I spent maybe a day or so creating a feedback form upon the end of the game. This was a mistake, though it’s handy to have (and I will keep the code) only two people told me how they felt. I was glad I had a 1500 character limit. However someone writing what they think stops another from playing, I won’t have that option there again. Someone did go on a rant, the other was very positive.

Feedback from developers, and public is very different; very different. Those whom code, will notice things that designers don’t, and vice versa. Kids are honest, and in my opinion brutal. I value a child’s opinion, maybe too much. But this feedback has created a long list of suggested tweaks, I will shelve them until the second public displaying, which I think is fair due to most feedback being isolated.

Controls in Forgotten Ball are different, it’s affected by physics, but doesn’t move like a beach ball. It’s a tough thing to understand as the ball isn’t hollow and because it’s different people did question it, I need to think about this more. I might make changes to it, I might not.

I got some great feedback, and loved meeting the developers that I did, Lawrie of Trash TV had some great things to say, as did Harry from Midnight Launch Studios, not to mention how friendly Sarah and Woody were from Utopian World of Sandwiches. I spoke to almost everyone, and should say that the Forum did a great job as did those who helped organise it. I ultimately really enjoyed it, and got a lot out of it.

Forgotten Ball had been likened to Thomas Was Alone, Fez, and Minecraft. My main inspiration is Dark Souls, and 16-Bit Disney platformers. However I of course have seen what Thomas, Fez and Minecraft do, but Forgotten Ball is its own thing and the similarities are slim.

The problems I am faced with now are different to before. Now after sharing my game, and seemingly doing well on twitter #screenshotsaturday I need to screenshot my game in a way that shows what is going on but doesn’t look so static. I need to be able to make sure that I have time to develop; which means I am now on a schedule. I need to make a gameplay video, and I need to discuss the possibility of funding and grants, maybe even kickstarter.

I now have to go back to full time work, and keep studying for my Masters. I’m in full time work and I worry how Forgotten Ball and work can co-exist. I wish I had more time to devote to a game I truly love developing, breaking and sharing, I now have to meet my (self imposed) January release date, damn.