So it would appear a couple of you managed to guess the meaning of those cryptic images I posted last. I think today is the time for me to announce the Three Amazing Things that has happened to TinyKeep in the past days and weeks. It's been an absolute whirlwind for the team and I am still in disbelief at it all.
Back in September last year, a small Indie Games Publishing company from the states sent us an e-mail asking if we would be interested in their services. At the time I wasn't really sure whether to sign up, as I wanted to remain independent. But still we kept in regular contact, after all it is always a good idea to have friends and networks in the industry. Well - after several months of friendly conversation and hard negotiation, I'd like to announce that TinyKeep is now officially signed to Digital Tribe Games, and I couldn't be happier!
Since mentioning the possibility of going with a publisher, a few of our forum members have expressed their concerns about the deal and the future of the game, so I'd like to take the time today to spell it out here what exactly it means to have TinyKeep published by Digital Tribe.
First of all, nothing will change in terms of the reward tiers, we will continue and endeavour to deliver our product as promised.
While DTG will be providing regular critical feedback for the remainder of the development process, they are ultimately happy for us to retain full creative control over the game. After all, it was the original concept and creative direction that got their attention in the first place!
DTG's primary role will be to handle marketing and distribution. I'll go into more detail about each of these in the sections below, but the most important thing is that this frees up my (rapidly dwindling time) so that I can completely focus on finishing the game to the best of my ability.
There will not be any physical stamping of games to be sold in retail.
DTG will also be assisting in translation/localization of the game to all major languages, in order to give TinyKeep the best chance of international success.
And above all, they will just be there to give me help, advice and security if I ever need it. A mentor, if you like!
Part of the deal with DTG is that they will handle distribution of the game across a variety of platforms and online store fronts. So only a couple of weeks ago the game concept and early demo was pitched to the people at Valve, and I'm pleased to announce that TinyKeep has now been successfully accepted to be sold on Steam!
This as you can imagine, is absolutely huge for us. Steam is undoubtedly the #1 online games purchasing platform, especially for independent titles. We are so so proud of getting over this giant hurdle, and we couldn't have done it without the help of DTG.
I'll come back with more details on the upcoming Steam release later on - but for now please join us in celebrating this fantastic news. You have no idea how excited we are about this!
If the above wasn't enough news for you, I'd like to officially announce that we will be showcasing TinyKeep live at Eurogamer's Rezzed Expo 2014at the Birmingham NEC!
As I mentioned in my last post, TinyKeep was unfortunately not selected to be included in the Leftfield Collection at EGX. Competition was extremely high (there were over 200 entries) and they seemed to prefer the more unusual and "out there" titles to showcase. Luckily with the help of our publisher DTG, we managed to secure an actual stall just for us on the main show floor of the event.
Arguably one of the largest gaming events in the UK with a footfall of over 25,000 attendees, this is going to be an absolutely massive chance for us to showcase TinyKeep to the wider public and gaming media. We are so proud, honoured and humbled to be shown amongst the likes of Alien Isolation, Broforce, Fez, Hotline Miami 2, Octodad, Prison Architect, Worms Battlegrounds and many others, not to mention the fantastic games in the Leftfield Collection.
The event is spanning across the entire weekend of March 28th (Friday) to 30th (Sunday). Tickets are quickly running out, so if you are in the UK and are interested in PC, console and Indie games, I strongly urge you to take a look. If you are already coming to the event, make sure you stop by our stall and say hi!
You can find out more details on the other games that are exhibiting at Rezzed on their What's On page.
Here's a photo of the event last year to give you an idea of what to expect:
The only thing left to do now is to get a really playable version up and running for the event! I say only...
Oh and those of you who bought the alpha - you'll be getting a copy as well. That's a promise!
Firstly the bad news! TinyKeep did not get selected to be part of the EGX Rezzed Leftfield Collection, so unfortunately we will not be attending Eurogamer's event this year. Apparently there were over 200 submissions, which made it incredibly competitive and as you can imagine it was very difficult for the judges to pick their chosen 20. However, this now means we can focus all our efforts on the upcoming Update Show in April, as well as submitting our game to other future events as well. So watch this space for more news on that!
Milestone #3 Underway
With that out of the way, I'd like to talk about the work we've been doing for the past few weeks. Our goal for the beginning of April is to have a fully playable "almost polished" version of the first Story Mode level. For those of you who pledged at the Early Bird reward tier (£15), you'll be pleased to know that once this build is completed I'll be releasing it as our first official alpha - so you'll all get a chance to try out TinyKeep at this early stage. Thank you for your patience so far!
This build will be used to showcase the game at various trade shows, so in addition to having a complete playable level, we will also be including elements of voice acting, a fully featured soundscape and last but not least the first incarnation of the player character - our beloved Prisoner.
From Concept to Creation
Chantal Slagmolen, a good friend of mine and an amazing illustrator and digital painter recently offered to help get the initial concept of our prisoner character down. Of course we couldn't refuse so after a couple of iterations we ended up with this:
Sporting a set of dirty ripped clothes and foot bandages, the years have certainly taken their toll on our little prisoner. The original brief was to have a gender ambigious character, so they could be played as either male or female. In the end we concluded that this idea wasn't very suitable due to the amount of detail needed to get the face textures looking right, so right now we are focusing on the male version first. But rest assured in the final game you'll be able to play as either male or female!
The player fully modelled in 3D, taking care to keep the proportions and colours consistent with the other monsters from the game:
Initially we were concerned that the cloth headwrap would look too distinctly Saharan, so we decided to make it customizable so that it could be replaced with a number of other accessories or hair.
For this first demo we're including the headwrap, some hair, a beard, a hood and a medieval nightcap. Expect a more extensive set of accessories in the future!
Our new character customization screen:
A few possible player combinations. My favourite is the forest ranger style!
And finally here's a little sneak preview of the Story Mode, this is me playing as Aragorn in the starting prison cell:
We are drawing ever near to exhibiting TinyKeep to the public for the first time in April (at Update Show and potentially even Rezzed 2014 - if we manage to get in!). So getting the first level of the Story Mode implemented is currently our top priority.
Up until now we've been suitably vague about what we are including in the storyline. Without giving too much away, you essentially start the game as a prisoner held deep in the catacombs of TinyKeep who has suddenly been set free by your cellmate (who incidentally has escaped a while ago and is nowhere to be seen). Every now and again you stumble across various letters and notes left behind by your mysterious saviour, giving you hints, warnings and other humorous monologues as you continue to make your escape to the outside. The messages are a glimmer of hope which pushes you on through the dark and lonely dungeons.
We've been auditioning various voice actors/actresses over the past few months for the part of the "Other Prisoner", and today I am happy to announce the newest addition to the team:
Kathryn MacColl is an experienced theatre actress and graduate from the East 15 School of Acting in London. Recently, she has developed a strong passion for voice acting roles in animation and computer games, and has since been assisting various indie projects and local game jams across the North West. As you can see from her voice acting showreel below, she has a fantastic repertoire and we absolutely cannot wait to have her narrate TinyKeep's letters.
We think having Kath on board will add to the already quite quirky and whimsical nature of the game, and will also showcase the best female vocal talent that Britain has to offer, something I feel is under represented in the games industry as a whole.
Phi talks about Random Dungeon Generation at Manchester's Unity User Group
As I briefly mentioned on the last update, I was invited by Unity to present a technical talk on how TinyKeep's dungeon generation was implemented in Unity. The event had a great turnout! As promised, the talk was filmed so I've put it online on YouTube if you are interested in this kind of thing.
Apologies for the bad video and sound quality, it was the first Unity event in Manchester so there were some teething issues with the equipment. I recommend you download the slides to make the presentation easier to follow.
Apologies for the teasing screenshot last week, but I said I'd be back with more info! This is the first detailed news update I'll be posting this year, and there's a lot to talk about!
Milestone #2 Progress
If you cast your mind back to the summer of '13, you may remember a series of AI demonstration videos and prototypes that I created to accompany the Kickstarter campaign. So I've been spending most of this month transferring the original Flash prototype behaviours (breadcrumb navigation, obstacle avoidance etc...) over to the new engine. It's been a blast!
A great way to test individual behaviours and basic combat is to create mini games that focus on one or two very specific core mechanics. This allows testers to focus on these important parts of the game without getting distracted by other unfinished features. This week I built one such test which I'll be sending to the pre-alpha group very soon. I call it The Skeleton Slayer...
A lesser game would say its done and call it a day - after all, mobs chase and fight you, what more do you need in a game like this? But this is TinyKeep, its goal has always been to offer interesting varied monsters with surprising and challenging AI. We're still very passionate about this mission, so over the next few months we'll be making an increased effort to implement and deliver on our promises, and hopefully this will make TinyKeep really stand out from the crowd.
Apart from fleshing out the immersive experience and having nice effects to listen to, sound design is actually extremely important for gameplay. For example, having a well thought out audio cue to notify the player that a skeleton has just been alerted to your presence, or a satisfying shield block sound to accompany the animation and give a sense of weight. All of this is vital to creating a game that feels responsive and real. So given this, I would like to announce a new member of our team...
Jey Kazi, based in Greater Manchester is an extremely talented Sound Designer specializing in game audio. He has already helped significantly improve TinyKeep's sound design, and you can hear the result on the most recent video above. Having Jey on board means easing the burden for myself so that I can focus purely on programming tasks and continue doing what I do best.
The Update event/convention is a new showcase of the latest videogames, apps and software from developers across the North West and beyond.
I'm pleased to announce that TinyKeep will be attending Update as an exhibitor! We'll have our own stall and attendees will be able to try out an early version of the game. We plan on having the first part of the Story Mode narrative implemented by then, so this will be very exciting for us as it will be the first time we will showcase our game to wider public and media.
The Update event will be on the 12th April 2014, at The Landing, MediaCity, UK.
If you are local or from the UK, please come and say hi! The event is free for anyone to attend, and most of the team will also be there to show their faces and represent!
For any developers that are interested, I'll be presenting a talk for Unity this month on how I implement random dungeon generation in TinyKeep. Tickets are already sold out, but we'll be filming the event and will be posting it online soon after.
At the end of last year, a games publisher contacted us about an opportunity to work with them. I can't reveal too many details just yet, but I'm currently in the final stages of working out a deal and if it all goes well, can only mean great things for the marketing and distribution of TinyKeep. Watch this space!
Finally, there may be some news coming soon regarding voice acting and a new player character concept. As you know we've been using the Fire Imp and Skeleton Warrior models for way too long, this is soon about to change...
Here's a quick Screenshot Saturday for you all while I prepare a well deserved lengthier update for next week.
So I decided to give my Skeletons the ability to jump, run over the top of, and bash furniture and other obstacles out of their way. Suddenly nothing is scarier than a horde of mobs that never give up!
Explanations and some interesting news of recent developments, coming up!
This will be my last update for December and 2013, after which I must go forth and deal with some other affairs and life commitments. By that I mean, my friends and family will undoubtedly be dragging me away from the laptop next week so that I can fully focus on the upcoming Christmas festivities. After all, it is the time to be jolly, and the dungeon is no place for that! (or is it?)
I know that the majority of my fans are game developers/programmers themselves so I thought I'd start with mentioning an amazing event I participated in last weekend: The Ludum Dare Game Jam. Sorry if you are expecting TinyKeep specific info, if so please skip to the next section!
48 Hours of Stress and Toil
I've mentioned Game Jams before, but the Ludum Dare in particular is something really special. Once every few months, participants all over the world try to create a game based on a random theme in exactly 48 hours (or 72 for the more relaxed team jam). They then spend 3 weeks playing and rating each others games, and the highest rated entry is the winner. There are no prizes for winning, except the warm fuzzy feeling that you've made something truly awesome that everyone can enjoy.
During the 48 hour period, I had around 6 hours sleep and spent the rest of the time hacking away at my poor excuse for a game (a Wing Commander clone). I think I was a little too ambitious, I tried to do my own low poly 3D modelling as well as getting some voice actor friends to help. Here's what I ended up with:
You can actually have a go on the Ludum Dare website. If you have an account, please rate and comment! If I somehow make it as a finalist, that will hopefully get some exposure for my work and TinyKeep, which would be amazing!
I also wrote a blog post on my top 6 favourite entries in the competition. These are really amazing games and I wish them all the luck in the coming weeks. If you have the time, you should definitely give them a go!
For those programmers considering getting into game development, why not give the next Ludum Dare a try? I promise you won't regret it!
Now that the Ludum Dare is over and done with, I've found some new motivation to work on TinyKeep, and my focus over the next month or so is AI. This is the work that you've all been patiently waiting for, and I really want to do justice to it! This is also the time where I'll be bringing more of Ben's skills and talent in, after all many of the behaviours for TinyKeep were based on his initial ideas all those years ago. Will 2014 be the year of the dungeon?
A Brief Look at TinyKeep's Collider System
Coming off the back of the Ludum Dare, I'm in an especially technical mood so today I want to talk about the techniques I'm using to enable TinyKeep's monsters to sense the surrounding environment. This is very important to build complex behaviours later on. Remember, TinyKeep is all about emergent behaviour, so rather than planning every single move at the programming stage, I want the monsters to be affected by the environment in new and surprising ways. Well, that's the theory anyway!
In a conventional game, you'd use a pathfinding algorithm to allow the monsters to intelligently navigate around the level. For TinyKeep, we found that lead to unnatural behaviour, it was almost as if the monsters memorized the dungeon and would be able to perfectly find its way around. Also, this technique falls down when in a dynamic environment. For example, all our furniture is moveable by physics, so we'd have to update the path every time this occurs. Instead, we decided to use a combination of line of sight, attractors and deflectors, flocking, smells, sound and light sensors to build a picture of the local area and let the monster make a decision based on these observations. You can see a tiny bit of this in action in our Monster AI series I did a long time ago.
Since then, we've moved from raycasting to collision boxes, as we've found it's more efficient to use Unity's physics system to do all the hard work for us when it comes to detecting nearby objects.
Take this Skeleton for example:
For AI, the most important colliders are the Strafe and Targeting sensors. Strafe sensors allow the monster to detect objects to its side, like a wall, a doorway arch or another monster. It can then use this information to strafe away from an obstacle. Similarly, the Targeting sensor allows the monster to see what exactly is directly in front of them, so that it can jump over, attack or block it for example. These may seem like really simple concepts, but combine them with smell, light, line of sight and the different types of objects and obstacles available, as well as introduce a few more monsters into the mix, you end up with something looking totally realistic and fun to play against.
Imagine this situation, you are in a hall with barrels and columns everywhere and you see a roast chicken you'd like to eat. You wouldn't exactly stop and calculate the shortest most optimal path would you? Instead, you'd try to run directly towards it, while dodging and weaving between objects in your way. If you happen to come across a trap or some other dangerous thing, you'd deal with it there and then. AI should be reactive, and that is what we're trying to do with TinyKeep.
Have a Great Christmas!
That's all that I can muster for now, need to continue working hard on the game! Promises must be fulfilled :)