Inaugural Play Expo Glasgow
On the 11th & 12th of June, the Braehead Arena in Glasgow hosted the first Play Expo in Scotland. No longer would we all have to trek down to Manchester or Birmingham (or further afield) for our fix of pinball, old coin-ops, indie games, and classic console & computer games. There were other things there as well such as table top games, cosplay, merchandise area etc, but they’re not relevant to this article, so I can’t be arsed writing about them. I’ve got other things to do. Like helping get Fragmental finished!
Ruffian by name…
Usually at these things people set up their stand with maybe a poster, some sweets to entice the punters, If the budget allows possibly a free-standing banner. For an indie, these events can be expensive, so self marketing is tough. Then we turn up with our 2 large free-standing banners, stick a 3rd up in the seating area, and for good measure bring 4 bright red seats for players to sit on. Overkill? It certainly made us stand out, and hopefully brought a few more people into the indie area to see what was going on. We’re not subtle, but when it comes to selling games, you can’t really afford to be.
Having just mentioned those red seats, now seems the opportune moment to mention the most awkward moment of the day, and that award has to go to the sneaky little girl who stole one of our chairs while we were talking to somebody about to play Fragmental. On top of this, she picked up the iPad at the next demo station along (HEDRA), and promptly exited to the desktop, scanned through everything available, then started playing Candy Crush! Having zero interest in having to remove someone else’s problem child, we left it to Craig from We Throw Switches to sort it out. For the record, he looked ultra uncomfortable doing it. Good job fella.
So how did it go?
Short answer – exceptionally well. Our stand had a continual stream of players on both days, with virtually no downtime. Once again, our initial thoughts on Fragmental’s demographic proved wide of the mark, with at least half of the players looking like they hadn’t even been on the planet for more than a decade! The feedback was universally positive, and I think in terms of both this, and the amount of people wanting to jump in and have a game, this was up there with the best show’s we’ve done.
Except for the 2 young lads who took 96 rounds to win a 1-on-1 ‘first to 10’ game. Watching that was like death by 1000 cuts. Or 96 at least.
One thing we’ve learned from our last year working in the indie games scene is that its a very friendly, collaborative community where everyone wants to see each other succeed. From the one-person entrepreneurs to the established studios, everyone just wants to make games, and hopefully make a bit of money out of it too. So, I’m going to promote out neighbours from Play Expo here, in the hope that some of our followers will take a look and support them:
A remarkably simple idea, all you do is rotate 3D shapes, then drop them on a variety of inclines with the aim of them landing, and settling on the one coloured face. Simple, but ridiculously addictive, especially when someone insists on beating your score you just spent ages achieving. I thought I was pretty good at it getting 22, then
not at all competitive Billy went straight on and hit 35. Way to piss on my chips there Billy
Anyway, its available for free on iOS, so there really is no reason not to get hold of this.
I think this is actually called ~Ow~, though the phrase “Competitive Cuddling Simulator” on the blackboard next to the monitor is much more descriptive. How to describe this…
Essentially you control one person of a couple on a sofa, with the aim of matching the required body position through keyboard input. Think CLOP / QWOP, but where you have to first learn which key maps to which limb. It all leads to a confusing mass of limbs, which given I’m led to understand that a lot of Vaida’s work is based on her life experiences, makes me wonder about the origins of this game! When played competitively, ~Ow~ got quite frantic, which is pretty good for a game made so quickly. You should keep an eye on what she does in the future, as her current output level of games is crazy, and each one is something unusual and different.
With pretty much every home computer and console ever present, along with a good range of pinball machines and over 40 classic coin-ops, there were plenty of those “Holy Shit!” moments on seeing a piece of hardware or a game you’ve not played since you were a kid. From a personal point of view, I made sure I got some time on Hyper Sports (Coin-op), Paperboy (Coin-op), Robotron (Coin-op), Blastcorps (N64), Power Stone (Dreamcast), and 3D Bomb Alley (BBC B).
I’ll not bother talking about the now ever present at these events Vive or Oculus. Needless to say, the queues were as long as usual.
‘Ruffian’ v ‘We Throw Switches’ Team Deathmatch Challenge!
Just before the end of the show, Craig & Andrew from We Throw Switches challenged myself and Billy to a Fragmental Team Deathmatch. They talked the talk. But walked the walk? More like shambled like the undead, or crawled like a baby. Next time guys, you’ll get there…
…I can’t get no sleep…
The latest public showing of Fragmental happened a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, at Insomnia Scotland. Traditionally these large scale LAN party events take place in Birmingham, but for the first time it has branched out and this was the inaugural event in Scotland.
Insomnia Scotland – Edinburgh EICC
The event started for me on the Friday night, when I finished work then headed home to Edinburgh to what I thought would be a very quick setup, test, then off to the pub for a beer. What should have taken half an hour, took 3 and a half hours. After spending the first 15 minutes in almost total darkness, it turned out the wireless Xbox One pads decided they had no intention of binding to the PC. One change of wireless adaptor later, still no joy. The tech guys from Multiplay Events then tried it on their PC. Nope. In the end, the fallback was to go with wired pads, which is no real problem, just having wires everywhere is a bit of a nightmare and a trip hazard. And OCD hell for anyone so afflicted…
No beers were had that night.
Halfway through the day, comedian and host of Videogame Nation, John Robertson, wandered by our booth. He was performing his show, The Dark Room that night, and I’d already promised to go to his show in the evening if he played Fragmental (despite the fact I already had tickets. Shhh…). Fair enough, if I must go and see one of the best comedy shows of the last few years, then I’ll take that one for the team! He was immediately good at the game, and full of praise for it, and I’m inclined to think he meant it and wasn’t just being nice. As he wrote on Twitter…
He also went one further and at the end of his show that night, in a packed auditorium, told everyone they should go and play Fragmental on day 2. Cheers Robbotron!
Overall the first day went well, with myself, Dave and Alex on hand to help fill any spare slots to ensure all games had the maximum 4-players. We had always expected Fragmental to be a post-pub game, for people who remember these kinds of games from the 90’s, but surprisingly there were a lot more children playing the game and loving it. And a lot of parents who opted to just stand back and watch. (I took this to mean they were too scared to get beaten by their kids. Which to be fair, did happen quite a lot)
At the end of the day, Dave and Alex headed back to Dundee, leaving me to chat to some of the cosplayers, watch The Dark Room, and totally ignore Craig from We Throw Switches who was apparently waving for about a minute and like a blind idiot I never noticed. After that I headed off to the Beltane after party, which is a bit of an Edinburgh institution. I’ll not attempt to explain it all here, but as expected it went on until 5am, at which point I thought I should probably call it a night. Or morning…
Many, many beers were had that night.
The doors open time of 10:30 came and went on day 2, but nobody appeared. For a good half hour I thought this might be the most awkward disaster ever for an expo, then one of the organisers mentioned that there had been a brief power cut overnight, causing all of the competition PC’s to reboot then start windows updates. Pfffft! So they had to delay the opening to the public for an hour, which was a nightmare for the organisers, but quite funny otherwise.
Instead of Dave & Alex, who cleverly wanted to have at least some of their weekend to themselves, I was joined on the 2nd day by Billy, eager to show off his digital baby. The attendance was visibly lower today, but we still had a steady stream of people wanting to play Fragmental, including many returning for 2nd and 3rd games. My personal highlight was a girl of about 7 turning to her dad and proclaiming that he had to buy it because it was amazing. I agreed completely, which pretty much decided the issue, lest he look like a bad parent.
It wasn’t the biggest show in the world, but Insomnia Scotland had a good atmosphere, lots of good games on show from the past 4 decades, and plenty of kids playing indie games and not just Minecraft (although the area with rows of children all silently hooked up to Minecraft was an ultra creepy sight). Hopefully it returns next year, bigger and better!
An acceptable amount of beers were had that night. 😉
At this point in time, I think we’re pretty satisfied that we have a game that is fun, accessible and addictive. What we need to do know is get this thing finished and in the hands of the journalists! Until we have AI in and working (coming soon in the next update), we’re somewhat limited in the coverage we can get, as it is simply not a fully finished game experience yet, especially for the solo player. That said, media coverage is something we need to think about well in advance, and on that note, we got our first, albeit brief, write-up…
Stuart Cullen from The Scottish Sun took a few soundbytes from us at the show, and we made it into his final write-up. I was going to crop the image to just include our bit, but that would deprive you of the chance to win one of 20,000 holidays from Walkers…
I’ve spent the best part of a week out and about showing off Fragmental at various events. Here’s a roundup of each:
Epic Unreal Engine 20th birthday event
Epic Games recently celebrated the 20th birthday of their much used Unreal Engine. To mark this, they held an event at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, where they wanted to have a room showing off a number of different third party games currently in development, that are built using UE4. We were happy to oblige (even though it meant a 7:30am flight followed by the sleeper train back the same night!).
The day started badly, as after about 4 hours sleep, I managed to cut myself shaving for the first time in about a decade. It was one of those where it’s the tiniest knick, but within seconds it looked like a scene from CSI. One plaster later and I look like I’m auditioning for Shenmue 3. Still surely it’ll be fine by the time I get to London.
It did indeed stop. Then started again 5 minutes before the invited attendees were due to arrive. The only option to avoid looking like I’d been stabbed in the neck was to ask the catering staff for a plaster. Anyone who has worked in catering will know what comes next…
A bright blue chef’s plaster. Amazing. So I had to spend the first half hour talking to people looking like an idiot. Well, even more than usual.
UK Games Fund showcase
We were lucky enough to be selected as one of the companies to receive funding in the first round of grants from the UK Games Fund, and this event was a showcase for all selected companies to demo the games they had used this money to fund. While we were only set up for an hour and a half, as much as anything it was useful to meet the other dev teams to swap stories and make new connections. as well as catch up with old friends and colleagues.
EGX Rezzed 2016
We took the decision not to show Fragmental off at Rezzed. This was for a number of reasons, but chief among those was that it freed us up to spend the entire show with three main goals:
1) Attend talks & presentations, learn from those that have more experience in making successful indie games
While a lot of the talks were aimed more at startup companies, maybe embarking on their first project, one talk stood out as a must-attend for us – Mike Rose from TinyBuild talking about their approach to community building and Twitch integration. This was not something we had given much thought to before now, but what Mike had to say made a huge amount of sense, and his attitude towards taking small risks for potentially large rewards was refreshing and compelling to hear. We managed to grab him after his talk for a chat, and gave him a steam code for Fragmental, so it will be interesting to see what he thinks of it!
2) Making contacts that will help us further down the line when it comes to marketing, selling & publishing Fragmental
Through direct contact, and contact by association (talking to people, who then passed our details on), we successfully managed to get connections with the major platform owners, as well as a number of publishers and social media sites. Chief among these were the guys from Machinima who were a great bunch of guys and always up for a laugh.
3) Research what other developers were doing in the indie game scene
The sheer variety of games on show was impressive, though melee based multiplayer arena battlers seemed to be the most prominent. Just as well we went with a shooting based game then! Over the three days of the show, we tried to play as many as we could, and here’s a review of our combined favourites:
Super Arcade Football – This is without doubt the spiritual successor to Sensible Soccer (though the actual successor, Sociable Soccer is also in production). The first game we played on day one, and it remained our favourite for the entire show. We must have played about 20 games of it. 11-a-side, indoor 5-a-side, and it seems everything we asked about is already in their development plans. This deserves to sell so many copies…
Raging Justice – I was a huge side scrolling beat-em-up fan in the 90’s, and went straight past Rocket League and Quantum Break in the Microsoft room to play on this. Turns out its being coded by one guy (take a bow Nic Makin) in his spare time evenings & weekends, with help from 1 artist! There are clear inspirations in here from Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon & maybe most prominently, Vendetta. If anything, it looks even smoother on iOS. Insanity! Those of you who have read my blogs will now realise this is an absolutely perfect segway to allow me to use that meme of Jackie Chan that I use in all my posts. As its too easy here, I’ve decided not to bother.
Snake Pass – The result of an internal game jam at Sumo Digital, and only 3 months of development time, I didn’t expect much as it looked like a run-of-the-mill 3D platformer. However the snake movement physics felt really satisfying as you navigated the scenery. Its something that can only be appreciated by actually getting hands on with the game, so if you get a chance, give it a go.
Manual Samuel – Initially I dismissed this as it wasn’t much to look at graphically, but its one of the few games that can actually make you laugh. You control a man back from the dead, who has to navigate a day in his life with all involuntary body processes now requiring voluntary input. So if you forget to breath periodically, you will die. If you forget to blink, the screen will fade to white. You need to keep your spine straight. Left and right steps are on different buttons (so a simpler version of QWOP). Simple processes like drinking a cup of tea, showering, or getting dressed all require thought and dexterity.
I know, it sounds terrible, but it actually somehow works.
Fugl – Hidden away in the Sega Leftfield room for slightly more unusual games, I found this gem. Despite thinking it had an awful name, I’ve since found out it means ‘Bird’ in Norwegian, which kind of makes sense as the developer, Johan Gjestland, is Norwegian. Still. A more interesting name couldn’t hurt… This is exactly the kind of experience I want from VR, and playing it on an Oculus was a beautiful experience – Diving through the clouds, skimming along a river, swooping between trees. Yeah, I’m sold. After this I didn’t feel like I needed to join the frankly ridiculous queue’s to try any of the other VR games.
Scanner Sombre – While only a very early tech demo from Introversion (the guys behind the great Prison Architect), Scanner Sombre was an eerie, experience. Set in pitch black, you have a scanner that shoots out hundreds of tiny dots of light. Wherever it hits something physical, it sticks to it. Through this method, you can effectively paint the world. The creepyness comes from when you realise there are human figures around you, but you don’t know if they are real, statues, or echoes. I’m not sure what they plan to eventually do with this, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for it.
Lumo – This kind of feels like I’m shilling for a friend, but Lumo is genuinely a great game. Tons of in-jokes / homages / references to games from the past, and a charming graphical style. What’s not to like? Though if all you ever play is COD or Fifa, maybe its not the game for you.
One final thing I have to do is apologize to Dara O’Briain. Yes, the Dara O’Briain from TV and comedy. As we were getting ushered out at 6pm with the rest of the scruffy people, the tuxedo and dress brigade were arriving for the Bafta game awards. Without realising I managed to wander into shot behind Dara while he was being interviewed on the red carpet for Sky news. Having watched it now, I noticed a clear moment where the camera pans away from where I was. Oops.
We’ve just made Update 2 live on Steam!
It’s been 4 weeks since our last Update, so we’re currently a little behind our planned schedule, but I promise it will have been worth the wait!
While Update 1 added new Weapons & Modifiers, this Update is a bit heavier in content, providing new Maps, Game Setup configuration options, and a new team based Game Mode.
New Game Mode
Now you can team up to Frag your enemies. Or more likely, argue with your Teammate as you realise that friendly fire is most definitely a clear and present danger!
Fragging your Teammate loses your Team a Frag, so don’t just spray bullets randomly or you might end up taking more backward than forward steps on the road to victory.
New Standard Maps
One of the tightest Maps in the game. The combination of windows and doors mean Rounds never last long here.
A high noon shootout, wait for the walls to drop and don’t get an itchy trigger finger.
Don’t be introverted here, run to the middle to fight!
Moving platform action where you can be fragged from any angle.
Curved walls everywhere mean you’re never safe from bouncing projectiles.
A racetrack loop with deadly spectators ready to join the action at the press of a button…
So. Many. Balls.
Lots of movement on this Map, try bouncing shots off the outside ring for skill frags.
This is all about deflecting shots off walls, or threading the needle down the centre.
Remember you can shoot through windows. There’s lots here to take advantage of.
It looks like Stonehenge? Really? Hadn’t noticed.
A large battlefield with irregular walls for unexpected ricochets and perfect aim long range shots.
Careful of the gaping chasm in the centre of this map.
New Survival Maps
This room hates you. The floor moves and the walls are deadly.
An evil Billiards inspired table with added laser death.
Aerial jousting with 4 platforms and 1 Jump Pad.
Game Setup Configuration Options
Something we’ve noticed during demos, and also something that has been requested on our Steam Discussions board, is to allow the Player to define the number of Frags that are required to win a Match.
Despite only needing 20 frags to win a Match as it stands, we’ve seen people play the game and have their Match go upwards of 70 Rounds. So yes, well done general public, you’re definitely right on this one. There are some other high level Game Setup Configuration Options as well as this, and we will continue to add more for Players to customise their game in future Updates.
Frag Limit (5 / 10 / 15 / 20)
You asked, we’ve provided! At present we’ve given the choice of 4 Frag Limits, but will possibly make this even more open to modification later. So if for some bizarre reason you really want a 13 Frag Limit, we might make that possible if enough people want it.
Death Walls (On / Off)
If a Round goes on for longer than 15 seconds, we trigger the Death Walls. This is to keep the action moving, and to stop Rounds becoming long, drawn out tactical affairs. Fragmental is all about fast paced action. However, if you really want to hide like a coward, this now means you can turn off the Death Walls and be a pussy to your hearts content.
Survival rounds (On / Off)
These are my personal favourite rounds in Fragmental. But if you really don’t like them – then I assume you are the kind of person who is crap at them – you can choose to turn them off. This would make me sad though, so don’t do it.
Modifiers (On / Off)
Modifiers are there to mix things up a bit. Who doesn’t like Infinite Ammo? Who doesn’t like Shields? Who doesn’t like Slow Motion? Who doesn’t like Reverse Runner… actually forget that, everybody swears at Reverse Runner. Anyway, if you want a really vanilla version of Fragmental, you can now turn these off.
Splash damage radius increased +100%.
Splash damage radius reduced -20%.
Splash damage radius increased +100%.
Player can no longer trigger their own Mines.
Splash damage radius reduced -17%.
Can now be fired through teleporters.
So, that’s update 2 out of the way now, on to update 3. This next one is a biggie, with the first implementation of AI bots meaning you will finally be able to play Fragmental single player.
As ever, if anyone has any questions or suggestions about these Updates or the game in general, add them to the Steam Discussions board and we’ll do our best to get back to you as quickly as possible.
With these updates, and the growing number of videos from Youtube and Twitch streamers, we’re beginning to see our player base grow. If you’re not yet one of them, head over to the Steam page and get onboard. The practise time you get will give you an advantage when we get to the update where we deliver the monster that is online play. It’s only a few more updates away…
We’re going to Comic-con baby!
San Diego here we come! Wooooo!
Ah, not quite. Still, Birmingham is sunny right?!
Meet the Team
Personally I’m gutted not to be going. I’ve been to a few comic-con’s myself, and the chance to go and exhibit at one would have been fantastic. But life gets in the way, so while I’m off doing other things, anyone who visits booth 882 in Birmingham will have the dubious pleasure of meeting some of the other guys in the team:
Billy Thomson: Baldy, sweary, cuddly Scotsman and also our Creative Director at Ruffian, so I probably shouldn’t have said those things. But given that most of them also refer to me, I guess I’m safe.
Dave Hoare: Designer. Irish. Inventor of some of our most enduring and creative soundbyte insults during internal office playtesting. To be fair, he’s also made way more levels in Fragmental than any of the rest of us, so if you enjoy the game, a lot of it is thanks to him. If you go along to our booth, please call him Ratweasel.
Bert McDowell: Senior Coder. Makes things work, and tells us how, even though it’s usually above our heads. Interesting trivia #1: Bert likes a night in the pub with friends so much, there are actually weekly nights out in Dundee & Glasgow named after him – “Bert Wednesdays”. Worryingly, that is 100% true.
Promo Material & Merchandise
One of the happy side-effects of taking our game to shows and expos is that we end up with some nice things to beautify our office. And holy crap do we need it. There’s a reason we affectionately refer to our office as the “Ruffi-bunker”.
So now we have two free standing banners, and pretty sleek they look too. Personally I‘d like us to get two more to complete the set of 4 different player coloured characters, but that’s why I’m not in charge of finance.
The t-shirts are another new addition, you can never have too much merchandise. The hat is Steve’s own, and the Nerf guns have been kicking around the office for a while now. Shame we lost all the bullets years ago.
MCM Comic-con Birmingham
Back to Comic-con then. Last year’s event had almost 35,000 people attend, so this will be by far the largest audience we’ve had for Fragmental. By a factor of about 100! The MCM events are a great mix of TV & film celebrities, independent comic artists, cosplay, and games. While America leads the way with their internationally renowned San Diego and New York Comic-cons, the UK is rapidly catching on to the popularity of these festivals of all things previously considered ‘geek’, and bringing it out into the mainstream.
This is the next step in our plan to ramp up public awareness of Fragmental. We’ve done a few smaller, local events, and will continue to do these, however there comes a time when we have to think bigger, and that time is now. Once we’ve seen how well MCM Birmingham goes, we’ll solidify plans for the events we want to attend over the next few months.
Again, I really wish I was going to this. I can’t imagine anything better than seeing Kryten from Red Dwarf, Hannah from S-club 7, a full size chaos space marine, and Deadpool playing a 4-player game of Fragmental. Check the MCM Birmingham website, it could happen. Someone please make it happen…
After pouring so much of our love into Fragmental (that sounded better in my head), we’ve finally released it on Steam Early Access, and now as we continue to develop the game, we also have the small task of making the wider world aware of the fact it actually exists – and that it’s a lot of fun.
Now, I’m good at what I do. I mean really world leading. I’m also the one writing this, so nobody can
tell you the truth say otherwise! However, I’ll admit that I’m not a marketing guy. In fact, none of us at Ruffian are. We just want to make games, and leave the black art of sales & marketing to someone else. That probably comes from years of working with publishers who are prepared to put a sizeable marketing budget behind a game, and have the clout and name to be able to put a game in front of a worldwide audience. We’re doing this one on our own, on purpose, so that this game will be 100% our own blood sweat & tears. So, time to learn how to sell a game!
Steam had already been chosen as the platform of choice, as it is far and away the most visible and used platform for releasing independent games. Not much else to say on that. Bit of a no-brainer really. Previous blog posts have covered our experience of going through the Greenlight process on Steam, so no point retreading old ground there. With the platform of the game decided, now we need to find a way to guide people towards it.
Where to Advertise?
How people find information on games has changed drastically during the very short lifetime of the games industry, and will likely continue to develop in this inherently tech driven field.
Ever since Play Meter launched in the US in 1974, there have been physical printed games magazines.
The UK has always had a strong games magazine scene, and I remember as a teenager spending ages on a Saturday morning in WH Smiths or John Menzies scanning through the racks of different games magazines. Then buying most of them when I could have actually just bought the games instead. Depending on your games history (and affiliation during the great Sonic V Mario war of the 90’s), the magazines you remember most fondly will vary, but mine went something like this:
80’s : BBC Micro User (because a BBC is useful, not like that rubber keyed Spectrum thing. Yeah, cheers dad)
90’s : Sega Power, Sega Force, Mean Machines, C&VG, Megatech, Sega Pro, PC Zone, PC Gamer
00’s : N64 magazine, Play, Official Playstation magazine, Edge
10’s : Retro Gamer
Yes, I actually bought all of those, and plenty more I’ve forgotten. And that’s only a small subset from my upbringing of mostly Sega & Sony machines, with an N64 chucked in for good measure. Every platform had a pantheon of magazines dedicated to it, with classics like Super Play, Nintendo Magazine System, GamesTM, Famitsu, EGM, GamePro, GameInformer, and Amiga Format/ Sorry for all those I’ve not got round to name checking there. And finally a big doff of the cap to our CEO, Gaz Liddon, who worked on the much loved Crash & Zzap!64
Photo may not be current
In the mid 90’s, the first digital games magazines appeared. There is some debate over which actually came first, so to avoid taking sides, I’m simply not going to bother naming any of them. While a slow start, the move towards this new medium of games journalism gather pace, eventually leading to a growing number of traditional print media titles either being cancelled, or at least discontinuing in physical form while moving online. Print titles still exist, but in general, sales figures are down from the heyday of the 80’s.
The last few years have seen another major change in the way people find their games related information, but this time it’s more of a power shift than a medium change. While originally created as a simple way to share videos, YouTube has provided anyone with a webcam the ability to create their own channel, talking about whatever they want. Back in the 80’s & 90’s, the magazine reviewers gained a level of fame amongst those of us who avidly read everything they printed. These days, the most successful youtubers are achieving the same kind of celebrity in their field, but are also now crossing over due to their ubiquitous online presence, and are beginning to appear side by side with more traditional celebrities. Last year saw PewDiePie appear alongside politician John Kerry and actress Clare Danes on the Late Show.
With the subscription numbers of some of these guys and girls hitting well into the millions, it’s clear that they wield a huge amount of influence over the game buying public, and have the ability to directly impact potential sales. A quick scan of the most popular youtube streamers shows the clear correlation between Minecraft and youtube. Minecraft was always going to be a huge success, but going hand in hand with youtube streamers, there is now such a massive community for that game that it just continues to grow. At this point, I want to give a big congratulations to our neighbours (literally next door), 4J studios who are responsible for the Minecraft conversions to Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and Wii U versions. Top work guys!
While YouTube requires videos to be created, then uploaded, the growth of Twitch makes it possible for real time delivery of content. Essentially what we are seeing is like a tv broadcast, but with an almost endless choice of what show to watch depending on who you like as a presenter.
So What Do We Do?
I’ll be totally honest here. Until recently I didn’t really understand the whole YouTube streaming thing. It just looked like very self-assured people overreacting to games. Since then I’ve had the chance to meet a few of them, and yeah, ok. I was wrong. These guys are massively passionate about what they do. And yes they overreact, but that’s good. If anyone’s watched our Twitch stream from the office of us playing the game, they’ll notice that when the camera’s go on, we go all quiet and reserved. There’s that damn British reserved nature coming through. Reserved doesn’t make for good viewing. So thanks to Lolrenaynay, ZeRoyalViking, GassyMexicanand EatMyDiction1 for opening my eyes.
With Fragmental, we have been reaching out to Youtube and Twitter games reviewers who have shown in the past that they play multiplayer games, especially couch play. Fragmental is at its best when played sitting next to your opponents, so we want that to be what people are first introduced to when playing the game – obviously this will change as the game evolves through future updates with AI Enemies and Online Play.
The point of this blog post (and every previous blog post on this site) is to give you an open, honest, warts and all insight into how we’ve gone about making this game. That same ethos will follow through into the marketing of the game. Once we’ve provided a Steam code to a reviewer, that’s it. We’ll be making no requests, restrictions or embargos into the content of the reviews. So far we’ve seen a few gameplay videos going up, and it seems to be getting the reaction we were hoping for, other than an unexpected aversion to using the right stick.
To this end, we’ve made a public information poster.
The other advantage of the YouTube route is that when they find a game they like, and that their subscribers take to, it’s not uncommon for an ongoing series of videos featuring that game to ensue. Fragmental is all about the gameplay the players create, and is in no way prescribed or narrative driven, so every game can produce unexpected moments of greatness or disaster. Ideal fodder for continued broadcast, especially as our plan is to deliver a continuous stream of updates over the next few months, both feature focussed and cosmetic.
Here are some of the videos we’ve seen so far:
The 2nd Wave
We don’t intend to be in Early Access for too long, our aim being to go to full release within the next few months. If we go through other media channels such as mainstream gaming websites, or print media too early, their review will be of a game missing features and it’s unlikely that they will return to publish an updated review later. While Fragmental is available to buy now, and is a fully playable game, there is still a lot of content we really want to deliver. The big 2 of AI enemies and Online play are still to come (though I saw an AI test today, and its already playing amazingly well), and we have a large collection of maps, weapons, modifiers, game modes, and customisation features still to reveal. Once most of this is complete, then we’ll approach the mainstream gaming press so that we can show it in the strongest light possible.
The Final Assault
By this stage we’d hope that Fragmental has gained a certain following and has made a name for itself. The final push would be to transition into more generic press, to expand the potential audience from just games players who read games related journalism, to anyone who reads anything.
After that, global domination.
We’re going to be giving Fragmental its 3rd hands-on public outing tomorrow night, and this one is easily the biggest test to date of the game that we’ve created.
Our first appearance was back in November, when we featured at “Games are for Everyone” in Edinburgh. This was a showcase for a lot of indie games in various staged of development. Hosted in a pub, with the bar literally 5m away, the setting was pretty much perfect for a game such as Fragmental, and as hoped it went down a storm.
December arrived, and with it came our second public showing. This time the host venue was the Megabytes café in Glasgow, a café themed around games, both modern & retro. This was a slightly harder sell, as people were mainly coming into the venue for a panini and coffee, or just as a way to get out of the lovely Glasgow weather. For anyone not from around these parts, that last bit was most definitely sarcasm.
The Perfect Build
Now into the new year, and we’re currently pushing hard to create a solid, stable build for our 3rd hands-on event, “GlesGames: Galaxy” in Glasgow.
There is a general process that we go through to get the game into a state that we are happy to show off to the public. In the case of Fragmental, this last week has seen us focus on a sub set of content which we know we can easily control, which will also avoid dropping new players in at the deep end. The addition of rulesets has allowed us to increase variation in this focused set of maps by defining different sets of weaponry and modifiers that will or won’t appear in each level. Wait until you play your first Power Glove only level. Or your first, frankly ridiculous, Disc Gun only level. Brilliant.
A big part of this week has also been spent on getting a 1st pass of a cut down Front End implemented. Its fine having debug info or placeholder images everywhere while we’re working on the game in the studio, but its not something we really want end users to have to see. That way we can pretend that everything we do always looks amazing and polished! Gary’s done some great work on the post-round score screen, making it much easier to see who you’ve killed and who has in turn killed you – which are hugely important in a game where Rounds can last 0.5 seconds.
As of today we have locked down the build, meaning that only absolutely critical bug fixes are taken. While I’m currently sat at my desk righting this, the rest of the team are playtesting the build looking for any last bugs that we think should be fixed ahead of tomorrow’s show.
As a company, and as individuals, we’ve gone through this process many times now, but that doesn’t mean it always goes smoothly. Just yesterday we found an evil crash bug that was only fixed through a series of at first glance unlinked suggestions. Turns out if you won a round while still having a Redeemer (manually controlled missile) in flight, then when the next map tried to load it would crash the game due to faulty garbage collection. But of course it would. Obvious really.
I’m getting so much mileage out of this Jackie Chan image. Wonder how I can use it next time?
As mentioned in the opening of this blog, the Glesgames event will be the biggest gameplay test that Fragmental has had for a couple of reasons:
- The attendees should be pretty much slap bang in the middle of our target demographic.
- The other games on show are mostly released games, and they’re a little bit on the good side.
GlesGames advertise themselves as “A local multiplayer video game event, based in Glasgow”. I’ve not been to one of their events yet, but it looks like a haven for hard core multiplayer games players to meet and compete, meaning that a game is going to have to really stand out and bring something new if it’s to garner any attention from all the established multiplayer games on offer. Imagine taking along along your lovely new racing game, then finding yourself set up next to Mario Kart…
That poster doesn’t even give you the full line-up, there are a few standard heavy hitters that don’t even make it onto the advertising:
- Towerfall Ascension
- Mario Kart 8
- Mount Your Friends
- Gang Beasts
- Ultra Street Fighter IV
It would be accurate to say that even with the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received so far, there are still a lot of nerves in the team over this demo, but nerves are good. They push you to work harder and make the game better.
Nerves or no, Glesgames should be the perfect testing ground for Fragmental. Right from the very start when we were pitching concepts internally to the team, I’ve had this memory stuck in my head of the nights my group of mates would finish an evening in the pub, then pile back to a randomly selected person’s house to play Goldeneye / Mario Kart / Bomberman / for hours. It would get loud. There would be shouting. There would be swearing. There would be complaints from other family members about the last two things. (Ally, Paul.D, Paul.S, Mike, Jason – thanks guys!) Let’s do a quick checklist of Glesgames against my teenage gaming years…
- Beers: Check
- Competitive games: Check
- Noisy banter: Check
- Shouting / Swearing: Check
- Annoyed family members: If this happens, I’ll be freaked out
In fact that checklist could pretty much be applied to the Ruffian office as well. Apart from (1) & (5). Actually, sometimes (1), but definitely only late on a Friday afternoon. Here’s what it looks like:
There is a second reason this demo is a big deal for us – it will be a fairly accurate representation of what our first early access release on Steam will be. Unless something catastrophic happens, the levels, weapons, modifiers, game modes and music in this demo will be the same as the ones you’ll see if (when!) you purchase this first build. We have a plan in place for regular updates, but are not quite ready to announce anything concrete yet. As this is completely our own game here at Ruffian, for once we are not bound by publisher deadlines, so if we feel that we need to extend the project length in order to squeeze in another cool feature, budget permitting, we at least have the option to do so.
The question of what to include in the first Early Access build has been one that has been discussed at length in the Ruffian office, and only recently have we reached a consensus that everyone is happy with. Too much content means we delay getting the game out there, leaving little time for feedback from the players and the iteration passes that would follow. Too little content and you guys would (rightly) feel hard done by, and won’t be able to get a true feeling of what the game can do.
As it stands, we’re confident we have the core gameplay nailed down, and most of the future updates will be additional content (more levels, more weapons, more modifiers, more game modes etc), with the remaining non-gameplay features coming online at regular intervals after the Early Access launch (e.g. network play).
The exciting news is that we’re close to releasing Fragmental on Steam Early Access. Keep checking back here for more news regarding this as there will be more information in the very near future!
Hicks: That’s the Grenade Launcher. I don’t think you want to mess with that.
Ripley: You started this. Show me everything. I can handle myself
Yup, that’s another Aliens reference from me. And once again, the link to my article is tenuous, but still just about admissible.
Now that we’re greenlit on Steam, we know without question that we’re going to be completing and releasing Fragmental. While obviously fantastic, this brings with it the realisation that as well as the core gameplay that we’ve been enjoying working on so much for the bulk of the time so far, we’re also going to have to implement all the other less sexy stuff. Like Menus, Settings screens, Localisation, Tutorials…
Learning can be fun.
Of those examples, both myself and Dave are working on the tutorials, and to be honest they are far more difficult to create than any of the normal or survival levels. They’re also traditionally more of a pain in the arse, as the focus has to be more on teaching the player a skill rather than just existing for fun, and even worse, as a designer you are fully aware that a large proportion of the players will play through your carefully crafted tutorial experience exactly once, or worse still, never. In production speak, not much bang for your buck. Tutorials are just generally not fun. Except for Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Well played there Ubisoft.
That said, for every hardcore player that will immediately just ‘get’ your game, there will be a player who likes to be led through a game’s systems and features, so they are armed with as much knowledge as possible before they are thrown into the action. So, tutorials are in.
Principles and Goals
The core principle we’re working to is that everything in this game must be fun. If it’s not, either we find a way to make it fun, or it’s out. With the tutorials, we’re multi-purposing – initially it will be a teaching tool, eventually turning into a set of single player challenges through repeated play. While this two-pronged approach provides more value to the content, it makes the job of creating it that much harder. Imagine this scenario: You create the obvious route through the level to introduce a beginner to each mechanic you want to teach them. Then you add sneaky little routes / firing angles for the best players to use in a speed run. Then you notice you’ve broken the original route by doing this. Trying to juggle these different routes through a single map requires a lot more up front planning, and even then a whole lot of tweaking and playtesting. We all want to create that perfect Mario Raceway (Mario Kart 64) with its hard to achieve wall jump shortcut, or going back further, plotting the exact path through Green Hill Zone 1 (Sonic the Hedgehog) to try to get that elusive 27 second run. I’m not saying we’re in the same league as Miyamoto-san, Naka-san or Yasuhara-san, but hey, why not shoot for the moon.
Each weapon will have its own single-map tutorial, where only that weapon is available and the player must destroy a number of targets, set up in such a way as to introduce the player to the specific firing mechanism and features of that weapon. As soon as a tutorial starts, a timer will start, and it’s this that will be the motivation for the challenge. Medals will be awarded for completing a tutorial map under set threshold times, and we might also add in the best times of Ruffian staff (QA will probably win all of these as usual) as a further target to beat.
As a starting point, some general guidelines were set to standardize the tutorials. Without these, given there are two of us working on them, we would run the risk of creating a mish-mash of different things, with little commonality between them. The initial plan was:
- Best times to complete should be under 5 seconds (for the elite players)
- No longer than 60 seconds to complete for the least skilled players
- Shots should teach the player the different mechanics of each weapon. Even the easy ones
- One map for each weapon
- Try to create ‘red herring’ routes to coax players away from the fastest possible route
- Perfect route should be clever enough to make players think they’ve broken the level and beaten the designers
Once we get into creating levels for the more ‘exotic’ weapons, these guidelines may need relaxed slightly, but for now this is our plan of attack.
King of the world baby!
Killing each other has been the main pastime over the last few months in the Ruffibunker (see a photo from a previous blog to understand why it’s affectionately called that), however I’m starting to see a shift towards high score bragging rights as we add each of these tutorials. Shouts of 6.3 seconds, followed by retorts of 6.2 are now fairly common throughout the day, then someone finds a new approach and suddenly its 5.4! After a while of this, if the designer of that level is currently not the best at it, tiny modifications are made to invalidate all times for that map. A metaphorical “fuck this shit” table flipping moment. Naming no names though.
<cough> Dave </cough>
At the moment, the signs are good that this tutorial / challenge mode can provide a good dose of fun away from the main multiplayer aspect of Fragmental.
I’ve just noticed I used the word tutorial 11 times in this article. That seems far too many. Damn, 12 now.
Why have I opened with a screengrab from the Torture-porn – what a name for a genre! – series “Saw”?
The answer to that is that I’ve had to pretty much turn myself into the antagonist of the first few films, “Jigsaw”, in order to come up with enough variety for the survival levels in Fragmental. Actually, a much more accurate reference would be the film “Cube”, but that might be a bit obscure as it was a low budget indie film, and Saw has become a money making juggernaut. Plus I really wanted to start with that picture, so there. Aaaaanyway, the point of all that was that myself and Dave – who did the other half of the survival levels – needed to think of as many different / horrible / innovative / funny ways for players to be able to die as possible, while being mindful that the whole point was to be the last survivor standing.
Inspiration comes from the weirdest of places, and at totally random times. Personally, I find that a lot of inspiration for my levels comes from TV & films – who knew wasting so much time watching TV as a kid would turn out to be a good thing! Creating a level with just enough of a nod to existing media, can give a player that empowering feeling of “Ah, I see what you’ve done there, I know what you were thinking of when you did that”. To demonstrate, I’ll highlight a couple of my levels, and explain their genesis and development over time:
The Alien franchise is the best film franchise out there. You could argue for The Godfather, or Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings, but you’d be wrong. For the younger ones reading this, don’t even go there with Harry Potter or Twilight…
<Spoiler warning…actually it came out in 1992, I think we’re a little past spoilers>
For this map, I was specifically thinking about the climactic scene of Alien3, where Ripley and the remaining convicts attempt to trap the Alien in the Foundry, pushing it into the smelting mould with an automated piston. This idea of a trap appealed to me, though in the film it was a very slow shunt. For Fragmental, it would make sense for this to be a high speed ram that would catapuly players off the map. To increase the frantic nature of the level, I also included small alcoves, like in the film, for players to jump into to avoid the piston. The translation from film inspiration to in-game level was pretty close, the only question being how to activate the moving parts. We had enough levels that were automated, so for this level it seemed worthwhile going a different route and letting the players activate it – also in keeping with events in the film. The final touch was allowing any player to activate the piston at any point, so buttons were added into each alcove, potentially one for each player.
The end result is a frantic dash and then you play a bit of a cat and mouse game with the other players as you decide whether or not to venture towards their little hiding place. There are no back walls on them, so you can punch them off the level if you get the timing right. Get it wrong and you’ll be slapped off the level by the massive piston. It’s very simple, but it’s a lot of fun to play.
The 80’s were a golden period for animation. At least they were if you wanted a vehicle to advertise your toy range, causing parents across the country to search for weeks before Christmas for the one shop in town that was rumoured to have that latest Transformers / He-man / Thundercats figure. I’m writing this from a male point of view only, as I refuse to type ‘Young Girls toys’ into google…
Trap door was different. An exceptionally British stop motion animation, based around a blue, ummm, thing, called Berk, who worked in the basement of his faceless master’s mansion. The titular trapdoor was set into the ground, for reasons that over the mists of time now escape me. Anyway, if it was ever opened, something good / bad / random would come out. For my Fragmental level, I liked the idea of a big trapdoor that would suddenly open, causing players to drop to their doom. However, on testing this everyone simply stuck to the sides of the level , rendering the trapdoor pretty useless. The simple solution here was to instead make the centre safe, and the edges the trapdoors, so the best players will maintain a central position in the arena. Kind of like Sumo.
This level is also great fun, but there’s slightly less focus on specific tactics in this one, it’s more about getting the timing right for landing your melee attack properly.
This is possibly the least obvious inspiration of the lot. D.A.R.Y.L was a 1985 – notice a pattern in my inspiration yet?! – film about a kid who was really an AI experiment, who, umm, actually just watch it or IMDB it or something. It’s like all films from that era, you can pretty much guess the ending about 10 minutes in. Long story short, in one scene Daryl plays Pole Position on an old Atari, getting faster and faster until it’s impossible for a normal human to play.
I wanted to make a very different level to the rest so far in Fragmental, along these lines. More recently, this has been done in the ‘Zone mode’ in the Wipeout series. Now, being totally honest here, I have no idea why I thought it would look funny if they were running around a vinyl record player. I just did, so that’s why the level ended up looking like it does. This is one of my most Marmite levels, some of the Fragmental team love it while the others groan every time it appears, but more importantly everyone we’ve shown it to in public loved it. Get in.
There are plenty more survival levels, inspired by things such as Pinball, Snooker, The Clangers, and The Rancor pit in Return of the Jedi, but I don’t want to show off everything too early!
By now you’ve probably come to realise that Fragmental is pretty much all about killing each other, over and over again. You may also remember that we mentioned how easy it is to accidentally kill yourself by taking a nose dive off the edge of a level or falling foul of one of the various different environment hazards we have – see “Red Balls of Death or Deathball™”.
Well, prepare to have your mind blown, sort of…
We have a new round type, imaginatively named ‘Survival’, at least for now. Instead of winning by killing other players, in these rounds you have no weapons, and the aim is to be the only remaining player not to die / commit suicide. From playtesting, it seems the best way to do this is to melee your opponents off the edge of the map or into environmental hazards.
See how different it is! Normal rounds = Kill Opponents. Survival rounds = Don’t Die. You = Mind Blown. Told you. This game design business is easy.
I’m currently enjoying these rounds as much as, if not more than the normal rounds. Melee is admittedly a bit rough in the game at the moment, but having all 4 players unarmed in a tiny arena, with a massive Deathball™ bouncing around tends to get some of the biggest laughs. Even more so when you’re trying to push your opponents into it, while at the same time trying to avoid it yourself.
These maps are generally the quickest to create, but tend to take the longest to come up with the original idea, as it’s tough to keep coming up with new, and funny ways to allow players to kill themselves. To be completely honest, some of these levels come into being from genuine mistakes. One example is when I wanted to create an energy beam that remained static along a wall. I thought I’d be clever and steal use a blueprinted energy beam from one of the other guys on the team – no point reinventing the wheel when someone else has already done all the hard work! What I didn’t realise was that their version had a rotation over time applied to it. When added to my level, the energy beam proceeded to slowly crawl around my map, in a semi-sentient looking way. Imagine the Borg assimilated Electro.
So the question is: Why, when we are trying to create a pure arcade shooting experience, would we suddenly change things up? The answer to that lies in Street Fighter 2.
Despite being a 1-on-1 fighting game, everyone loved the bonus level where you have to destroy a car. It didn’t fight back, it just sat there, like an automotive palate cleanser from the constant combat required for the rest of the game, but most importantly it still used the existing systems and themes. There were other bonus levels, but we don’t talk about those.
Our survival levels are similar in their approach, you still use the same mechanics and your goal is still the same – you want your opponents to end up deader than a dead thing – it’s just the method you use to achieve that goal that’s different.
To sign off, here’s a screenshot of a WIP Survival level with the Deathball™ thing I was talking about earlier.