Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hey Party Animals!

If you're interested in hearing about how Party Animals came to be, then read on.  But if you're just interested in learning more about the game, feel free to skip the backstory and just head on to our presskit at

Disaster Relief

Last year, I co-created a game that broke my heart.  I released Elevator Joe with Kuyi Mobile and we were hoping that Kuyi's previous success with Streetfood Tycoon would somehow carry over to this new game. It didn't, and frankly speaking I've soured on the idea of making mobile games for now.  Around November last year in the grips of that depression, I reached out to my friend Julius to see if he'd like to join a gamejolt contest with me.  We'd always talked about making some dumb game together, and I knew I was in a funk and I wanted to do something light and funny to get me out of my mood.  Then right before the contest began, Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.  Julius's home town is in Eastern Samar, just a few hours away from Tacloban City, which was ground zero for this disaster.  Suddenly my depression seemed rather silly, and making the game took on a new dimension.  Julius was having trouble reaching his family, what with communication lines cut and cellphone carrier capacities stretched to their limits. He needed to work on something to keep himself from worrying about his family, so we threw ourselves into the game.

One month later, we found out two things.  One, Julius' family was safe, but parts of his town were flattened.  Two, we didn't win the gamejolt contest.  That's all right though.  A game jam tends to favor very specific games : platformers, puzzlers, etc. where the interactions are fairly simplistic and gameplay is usually shooting something or fitting a block into the right hole.  Picking a political strategy game was probably a poor choice, but it was and continues to be the game we wanted to make.  I was terrified of committing myself to what might be another financial flop by pushing forward with this game, but a few factors swayed me to make this choice.  Any recognition I gave in the gamedev world comes from my work on Indie titles like Spacechem and Prison Architect (in fact, it was Space Chem that caught Chris Delay's attention and led him to contact me).  None of that matters to the mobile market, but I'm hoping that'll have some sway with the indie market. Games like Cart Life and Papers, Please have also proven that there is some interest in subject matter that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of game genres.  If we can help to push those boundaries and make a decent living I'd be very pleased.

Bootstrapping Bitsummit

As we hunkered down to start figuring out timelines and changes to the game design, an interesting opportunity presented itself : Bitsummit 2014.  The second annual Bitsummit had just been announced in Kyoto, promising a bigger venue and most importantly for us opening up registration to foreign devs.  Even more opportune was the fact that Cebu Pacific Airlines was holding one of their regular seat sales.  As I nervously scanned the available seats, I found round trip tickets from Manila to Osaka for roughly $130 dollars.  Bitsummit was free for indie devs and is one of the few conferences in our region that attracts Western press. There was no way I could waste the opportunity to have some face to face time with press.  So despite feeling financially fragile at the time I pulled out my credit card and within a few minutes I had tickets to Osaka.  I was going to Bitsummit.

Japan's hotels are traditionally quite expensive, especially to someone from a developing country.  Accommodations are even trickier for someone like me because I'm such a light sleeper. I would have roomed with a friend but that was a bit of an imposition and I don't know their sleeping habits.  Hostels are generally out of the picture because now you're in a room full of people with different sleeping habits, and you're not even friends with them so it's harder to kick them because they're snoring.  Hotels were way too expensive, though I did consider staying in a cheaper one since the breakfast buffets might offset the cost.  Ultimately I chose Airbnb, particularly because I was able to maximize a promo they had and saved $100 on accomodations.

The place that I ultimately found on airbnb was going for $35 a night.  That's already pretty cheap by Japanese standards, especially since it comes with bikes, which cuts down on your transportation costs.  But I noticed on my credit card bill that my bank had a deal with Airbnb to shave off $25 per transaction.  I'd already used this promo on a previous trip to Bangkok, but I wondered if I could use it again.  The promo specified that you input the first 4 numbers of your credit card as the promo code.  I tried using my credit card again and was informed that the code had already been used up.  But I also had an "e-credit card" that the bank gave me, and I tried its numbers : they worked.  I quickly realized now that the promo codes were dependent on the different credit card numbers, and that theoretically you could keep using the promo as many times as you had credit card numbers.  I scanned the rules and regulations of the promo and could not find anything saying that there was a minimum amount or number of days that you needed in order to use the promo.  I had just discovered a loophole.  Fast forward to a few days later after some discussions with the Japanese owner of the space, I had made 4 separate transactions at the place, saving me $25 dollars per transaction, totalling to $100 worth of savings.  I felt like a bootstrapping genius.

Trial By Fire

Now that everything was all set, all that remained was to try to craft a playable demo within two months.  It seemed simple enough at the time, but it turns out we vastly overestimated our capacity to do this.  I spent December and January were mostly spent working on Prison Architect, which is basically my bread and butter at this point.  I would have most of February to commit to the game, apart from a 5 days vacation in Thailand. Too much was going against us.  Aside from the time constraint, Julius was working with a cutting edge SDK called Loom that allowed rapid deploy/live reload workflow but was new and buggy.  To be short, we weren't actually able to make a proper demo, but we were able to cobble together a prototype of our sortie system, which will be the main interface in which the player tries to gather votes for his campaign.  It made sense for us to focus on that since it was integral to the game that it works.  If the sorties aren't fun, then there's no point continuing to develop around them.  Additionally, they are also the part of the game that has the most moving parts and animations, which is much more exciting to show off on the show floor compared to showing a character moving across a map screen.

To compensate for our lack of a demo, I decided that making an "explainer" document of some sort would help me to at least communicate what we want to do with the game.  In essence this would become a Kickstarter marketing pitch in PDF form, and in my mind I visualized it like an old school SNES Manual.  Not only would this be useful to explain the game to press, it also helped crystallize some of the ideas we had into words and pictures so that we can reference them in the future, kind of a like a loose design doc.  Since we are planning to crowdfund this some point in the future, this will all be very useful marketing material somewhere down the line.

In fact, it's already proven it's worth.  Pecha Kucha Executive Director Jean Snow is inviting gamedevs to do live presentations during Bitsummit.  The idea of putting together a Pecha Kucha in a day is terrifying to someone like me, who likes to plan out as many details as I can before getting on a stage.  But since I had the manual as a guide I essentially crafted the presentation around the points that I brought up in the manual, making it far easier for me to plot it out.  Anyway the great thing about a Pecha Kucha is that at worst you only look like an idiot for 7 minutes onstage and then it's done!

Helping Hand

Since there's no sense showing off a prototype during the public days, I also decided to make efficient use of my table space by turning it into a de facto "Philippine Indie Games" table.  I rounded up a bunch of local indie developers that I know (Kuyi Mobile, Keybol Games, Quickfire Games, White Widget, Mochibits, Studio Kontrabida)and said that if they could put together a brochure of their games and companies I would stack these on my table and share it with reporters and the public.  Getting Philippine games in front of a wider audience is an enourmous task, so I'm happy to be able to help them out while I can.  I even bought a Philippine flag and some local candies to entice people to drop by the table!

Hello Again, Kyoto

When my wife and I visited Kyoto last October, we met up with some awesome devs from Q games that invited me to attend Bistummit.  At the time I was skeptical, since it was mainly geared towards Japanese indies.  That all changed when they opened it up to foreign devs.  As I write this I am one day away from flying to Kyoto for Bitsummit.  I wish I had more to present, but my tickets and accomodations have been booked and there's no backing out now.  At the very least I will see some old friends and make some new ones too.  Opportunities like Bitsummit don't come along everyday for folks in my region, so I've resolved to absolutely throw myself into any possible marketing opportunities that I find, even if I'm already exhausted just thinking about it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bangkok Sketches part 2

In my previous post I talked a bit about going  in a new direction with my sketches.  Whereas previously my sketches were a weird jumble of things that I saw with no distinct purpose, I liked the exercise of drawing everything I could see without moving my head.  This forces me to put myself in a position where there's an interesting angle that I can draw.  As Paul Heaston said, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't.  To add another degree of fun to my sketches I'm also now visually thinking of where I should be placing the text, so there's a little graphic design exercise for me there.

The left-hand page is from a boutique in Pratunam Market.  Aissa left me sketching while she went shopping.  I love the little detail of the dog lying underneath the clothes.  The right-hand page was made while waiting for our train to Ayutthaya.  Train stations and airports are visual feasts if you're sketching people.  They draw in all kinds of people, from the hippie backpackers in the background and the average Thai travelers in the foreground.

Filled with the vigor of my new sketching exercise, I decided that sketching in the train wouldn't be a bad idea.  Sure it was kind of shaky, but it turned out all right.  On the right hand side is a sketch of Aissa in Wat Phra Si Samphet.  I'm trying to get over my fear of sketching her.  A fear born of never being able to capture the image of her I have in my head.  She liked it, so that's what counts.

After tramping through temples we visited a night market and sat down to have dinner.  My eyes were drawn to this bedraggled man selling what looked like wooden flowers.  There's a part of me that always feels for the guy who looks like he's had a rough time.  Luckily, before we stood up, he'd had quite a few customers already.  I guess wooden flowers are really popular in Thailand?

The right-hand page sketch is the famous Buddha face lodged in a Banyan (Bodhi?) tree.  I had no idea, but turns out there were quite a few people leaning over and taking photographs of me sketching.  A white guy patted me on the shoulder and gave me a thumbs up before saying "Good job."  A Japanese man and his wife came over and started chattering animatedly about it, and looked through my sketchbook with choruses of "sugooiiii!".  I think they were pleased that there were sketches of Japan in there.

This "drawing everything" style can be quite tiresome, and sometimes when you rush it the perspective of things is all awry, like the bench on the left-hand page.  On the right hand side our train back from Ayutthaya was even shakier than the train going there, hence the wiggly lines.

This was the last sketch I made.  I was already feeling quite tired at this point, but I wanted to record the last few moments of our vacation.  Passengers had congregated in this area where there were a bunch of benches and comfy sofas to wait until their plane was boarding.

The copy I inserted to the left of the gate sign, "Everyone is just waiting to leave again." is my half-hearted attempt as something poetic, and isn't actually written there in real life.

Bangkok and Ayutthaya were fun, and I was happy to be able to visit some places old an new.  I'm definitely happy that I lived here once, and I think I would happily live here again one day.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bangkok Sketches part 1

Aissa and I took a short vacation to Bangkok a couple of weeks ago, somethong I'd been looking forward to for some time.  Our first trip to Bangkok was about going to the main sights, but this time around I wanted to try to visit some of the places I used to go to when I lived there as a child.  It's amazing to me that I can say that I lived somewhere 20 years ago, but that is Bangkok to me, a part of my history.  I ultimately failed at going back to my old school due to some time constraints, but I did get to eat at a Sizzler and an S&P restaurant, as well as visit the grocery we used to go, which opened up a wellspring of memories for me. Here are some sketches I made with a quick description of each.  I'm sorry I can't do more, but I'm pressed for time lately!

Wat Yan Nawa.  This curious temple is a few minutes walk away from Sathorn Pier/ BTS station.  It has a chedi built like a Chinese junk (the boat, not their privates).  It's a riverside temple, so I suppose the idea was to pay homage to the Chinese junks that used to crowd the Chao Phraya river, bringing information and trade into Bangkok.

I'd forgotten this about Thailand, but most houses and large establishments will have a spirit house, where theoretically spirits are appeased and given offerings so they won't harm the inhabitants of the dwelling.  When I was a child I had no understanding of this, and just thought our apartment had an oddly located dollhouse.  This is the spirit house of The Littlest Guesthouse, whose proprietor also owns the serviced apartment we stayed in.  I would highly recommend staying in either place.

The classic Thai form of transport, the Tuk-Tuk.  This was sketched right outside the Littlest Guesthouse.  Aissa was getting a massage while I sketched it, and I finished it just as the mosquitoes were starting to wake up and dine on my blood.  I really liked how this turned out and I plan on coloring it at some point.

This is a quick sketch of the area around our apartment.  Those W buildings are everywhere!  The scene on the right was from a riverfront marketplace called "Riverfront Asiatique".  There are free ferry boats there, and while it's touristic and a little pricey there's a nice history to them, given that the buildings are the former warehouses of the East Asiatique company, a Danish trading firm that was very active in Bangkok until the early 20th century.  We also lucked into a showing of Muay Thai Live! It was one of those "not on the itinerary" things that we just randomly walked into.  Tickets were a pretty steep 1300 baht each, but I was considering it.  Then the saleslady explained that for February they were running a buy one take one promo, and it was a done deal.  No sketches of the show, but I highly recommend it.  We learned some Muay Thai moves, our favorites being "Rama walks in the jungle", "Elephant destroys the shelter" and "Master pounds the herbs".

Part of my memories of growing up in Bangkok was a restaurant called Sizzler.  It's not very Thai at all, as it featured Steaks and an unlimited salad bar.  But Sizzler opened up its first restaurant in Bangkok when we were living there, and it became one of our go-to places for dining out.  I'm glad they're still around, but very sad that one of my favorite items in their salad bad, the fried potato skins, was no longer there.  I guess they realized that some potato lover had snuck them in the salad bar menu, where they really had no place whatsoever. Whoever you are, I salute you, brave potato lover.

I'm going to leave this post with this last sketch of Bangkok traffic because it represents a new direction in my sketching style.  While we were on our way to Pratunam Fashion Market I browsed through "The Art of Urban Sketching and discovered the artist Paul Heaston.  He describes his process as simply drawing from the bottom up and capturing as much detail as possible.  With some exceptions, this is what I've tried to do in the sketches I made for the rest of the trip, which I'll talk about in more detail next week!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

The review below originally appeared in Fully Booked's Zine. I highly recommend this book to any introverts or people with introvert friends or partners so that they can better understand themselves or their partners. I was originally wary of this book because I was worried it would be a rah!rah! book espousing the greatness of introverts, but I really like its balanced approach. If you're thinking about picking the book up, please consider doing so through my Amazon Affiliates link.

As a self avowed introvert, Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was a revelation to me.  It explained to me why it is that I don’t particularly like parties (introverts prefer meaningful conversations over light banter), why I like being early to meetings in areas I’m not familiar with (introverts are more comfortable when we know the area and “own” the space) and why working from home is the perfect situation for me (introverts are easy overstimulated and need quiet places for their minds to think).  These are things that I’ve always inherently known and understood about myself, but it’s good to know that there’s decades of research behind it.

 Cain also explores the “extrovert ideal” and why it has such a powerful hold on (mostly western) societies.  She links the extrovert ideal to the financial crisis of 2008, making the case that the collapse of so many financial institutions might have been averted had the advice of more cautious introverts been heeded.  Ultimately she argues that the best organizations have a good mix of go-getting extroverts and mindful introverts and gives both personality types the kind of working space that they need to excel.  

However it’s not just the office space that Cain explores in this book.  She offers up examples of introverts at school, as parents and children, in relationships, in religious institutions, and a variety of other social situations.  If this book were to come out as a distilled “How-To” guide for introverts it would shoot up to number one on the sales charts.  But even in its current in-depth form it is exactly the kind of book that an introvert would adore, one that promises a better understanding of themselves and of the world at large.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Dildo Factory Mod, Etc.

The last Alpha update for Prison Architect last year finally opened up the game to mods.  Clever people had already figured out a way to hack mods onto the game, but by opening up the gates PA's fans were finally allowed to go buck wild with their imaginations.

1. The Dildo Factory

When I sent a tweet to @IVsoftware notifying them of this mod, all they had to say was "surprised its taken them this long".  

Awwwww yeaaaah.  This is what modding was for right?  Those custom Stormtroopers are just plain adorable.  They have R2 droids too!

3. British Boarding School

Fancy playing a top-down version of Bully?  Well you're in luck! Coms complete with plush carpeting and everything.  Surely a Hogwarts mod is on the way.

4. Seasons Mod (4 seasons, get it? GETIT?)

This was one of the first mods that came out when the Alpha was released, and the aim is provide a different mod for whichever season we're currently in.  This was winter, so it featured snow on the trees, Snowmen as your workmen, and Santa Wardens.  Winter lends itself to this kind of modding, so I'd be curious to see what they do with spring (Easter Bunny Wardens?) and summer (Baywatch Prison?).

5. Clearer Needs Mod

This mod gave me the most pause, because it's very obviously critiquing my own work.  Specifically it takes issue with the iconography I used to describe the prisoners' needs.  If the mod were badly done I could laugh it off, but the thing is I sort of agree with this modder that the icons I made are unclear, especially at smaller sizes.  I got caught up with the idea of the body language of my prisoner icons helping to inform the icon and neglected the fact that at smaller sizes a lot of the detail would be lost.

I'm no stranger to critique and indeed I'm happy that someone took the time to think over the same design problem that I did.  However my built-in insecurity about the worth of my work reared its ugly head.  I had been paid to create those icons, and the guy that made this mod did arguably a better job than I did. So he should get my job, right?!?!?

But looking at the other mods I realized that essentially every modder thinks that he can do a better job than the original designers.  It's the very nature of modding!  So people will tweak the code, the settings and the art and make it something they think is "better".  It might be, but better is usually a matter of personal taste, in the same way that I'm using a launcher that completely changes the way Android works because I thought it was cool.

The moral of the story?  Just work as hard and as smart as you can and stop worrying so much about other people.  Looking forward to some more amazing mods!