A Greenlit Developer’s view on Steam Direct

On Friday, Valve posted on the Steam Blog that Steam Greenlight will finally be replaced by a new system for game developers to submit their games to the digital distribution platform. The new system will be called Steam Direct, where a developer can fill in a set of digital paperwork (such as company, tax and bank information) and pay a fee for each game they submit, with a small verification process to ensure that games will be able to run properly through the platform. With this news bringing heated discussions among game developers and journalists, I figured I’d put all my opinions down on one post to give my side.

While I have Steam Greenlight to thank for giving Gemstone Keeper the chance to be on Steam, I feel that Steam Greenlight has a lot of issues and is an easily cheatable system. It can make a game developer’s efforts a bit demoralising when they work hard on a game, pay the fee and spend time to create a good description and video to be placed on the page, when among the other hard working developers who put as much effort, you are also competing with people who either flip pre-made assets onto the store and could easily rack up votes by offering free Steam keys. Doing things the right way, as I talked to students about at a Staffordshire University conference months earlier, might take a few days if you are lucky, but more likely take weeks, months or (in a few cases) years to get greenlit, if you are greenlit at all.

The idea of having a fee per game, instead of a fee per account, is not new. It’s been suggested even why back when the idea of replacing Greenlight was first mentioned by Valve back in 2013, and I’m one of the group who agreed with the idea. This means that I was initially glad to see Steam finally announcing Steam Direct with this fee approach. It’s also worth mentioning that Steam has said that all games which have been greenlit, but have yet to be released, will not be affected by the transition and that it is possible to get a refund of the Greenlight submission fee if you do not have any Greenlit titles.

That being said, there are some concerns, namely with the vague and limited description of the approval process. While it’s all good to ensure that games released will actually contain an executable required to run the game, the question of quality arises. I’ve heard some ideas that a full vetting process would mean some really creative games would get rejected, which I do find valid since the appearance of a game is subjective, but I’d disagree on the fact that having a game that is quirky or unusual in appearance would still get through as long as it can run smoothly with a good framerate on average hardware and would be difficult to crash or bug out. It’s a concern to bring up, since part of the reason why Steam emassed such a large amount of poor quality games is because they allowed poorly made games to get through.

The other main concern is the size of the fee, to quote the blog post from Alden Knoll:

We talked to several developers and studios about an appropriate fee, and they gave us a range of responses from as low as $100 to as high as $5,000. There are pros and cons at either end of the spectrum, so we’d like to gather more feedback before settling on a number.

While a lot of developers are either worried or accepting of the maximum fee, citing either eliminating low income developers and developers from third world countries, I’m gonna be sounding like the optimist and say I doubt Steam would ever set the fee at $5000, unless they fully accept the risk of alienating a large amount of aspiring developers and reverse the progress of allowing indie development to be more accessible to bigger platforms. However it is because of reasons given like the fact that Valve and Steam are a business, submitting games has its own costs and there is a risk on Valve to allowing several games, especially if it’s unlikely they’ll make any money on the platform, that I do not see $100 being the fee they’ll decide on. Based on the several discussions I’ve read and the majority of developers preferring a lower fee, my best guess is that whatever fee Steam decides, it will not exceed $1000, maybe not even $750 if it would deter anyone who wants to use Steam as a way to make money with little effort.

Some have even suggested that the fee will bring a rise to smaller marketplaces for indie developers, as even Itch.io even joked about. I like seeing more variety, and I’m happy to see platforms like itch.io, GOG, GameJolt Marketplace and the HumbleStore growing their own communities, it would still take a few big named publishers to move to these platforms to topple Steam over.

Finally, I want to give my view to a point made by Jonathan Blow, who made a series of tweets criticising game journalists who write about Steam Direct being a reason for Indie Developers to panick, and not considering views who are on-the-fence or approve of Steam Direct. I don’t entirely agree with his viewpoint, in particular I don’t think it’s correct to think Kotaku/Polygon’s potentially biased reporting on the Steam Direct based on actual sources and “fake news” to be the same. However, considering that it’s only been a weekend and not every bit of infomation on Steam Direct has been finalised, I don’t think it’s good to treat every bit of detail in the Steam Direct announcement as negative, considering this is one of the first positive steps Valve has made in a while regarding Steam in a while.

Gemstone Keeper at LAGC 2017

So I had a great time at the London Anime and Gaming Convention, even despite some unfortunate setbacks. Indie Zone Administrator and developer at Grandpa Pixel (Folks behind the RPG Legenda series) was unable to make it at the last minute. What made it all the more unfortunate was that there were only three indies at the Indie Zone this year: myself, Crystalline Green (developer of Flight of Light and Atlantis Dare) and Hei Stories (Indie Animation Studio working on Seeking Scarlet At The End Of The World). Needless to say we brought attention to the many attendees who were walking around the gaming area, looking for something to play outside of the retro games in store.

  

I also did a short talk on game development in general, talking about my game development process and answering questions on topics such as piracy, game engines, looking for feedback and much more. Despite the small numbers, demoing the game did help find a few bugs and it was great hearing people say they love the visuals and the challenging gameplay. There was one kid who went back to the game multiple times, which was unexpected.

In a weeks time on Saturday the 18th to the following Sunday I’ll be at GEEK Expo in Margate. Unfortunately unless some other plans come up this will be the last event I’ll be exhibiting Gemstone Keeper before release, as I was unsuccessful with my application at the Leftfield Collection at Rezzed. I will be sure to attend Rezzed as well as GDC in San Francisco so there might be a chance to see me around. Till then I’ll be making my usual posts on social media.

Where to play Gemstone Keeper?

On March 31st, Gemstone Keeper will be available on Steam. However before then there will be a few opportunities to play Gemstone Keeper at some game events, at least in the UK. These events are beneficial for getting feedback, so the game’s quality will improve before release. Here are two gaming events which are currently confirmed places to try out the beta version of Gemstone Keeper.

https://i0.wp.com/winter.londonanimecon.com/images/logo.png

Feb 7th and 8th – The Rocket Complex London Metropolitan University

LAGC is a bi-annual anime and gaming convention run by AnimeLeague, and specifically I’ll be in the Gaming Area where the Indie Zone is. I have attended the convention several times in the past, and have enjoyed the many events and stalls available.

Feb 18th and 19th – Marine Studios

GEEK is a gaming and comic book (among other things) festival, featuring retro and modern games, as well as pinball and of course, indie games. Gemstone Keeper will be present at GEEK’s Indie Zone. This will be the first time I have attended an event in Kent, so I’m looking forward to what this event has in store.

Now while I won’t be exhibiting, I will also be reaching outside the UK as I go to GDC in San Francisco, (Feb 27th – March 3rd). While I won’t be showing off Gemstone Keeper on the show floor, I’m hoping to meet several other indie developers and attend meetups around the conference, so there may be a few opportunities for Gemstone Keeper to be played during the week in the USA.

While it hasn’t been confirmed yet, I am hoping to once again, attend Insomnia Gaming Festival in April. I last attended Insomnia’s Indie Zone at i58 and had a great time there, so it would be great to present Gemstone Keeper there once again.

Finally, I can now confirm that Gemstone Keeper now has it’s own official website. This will be a central place to describe what the game is about and to see the latest screenshots and videos, such as these ones below.

Gemstone Keeper Underground

Gemstone Keeper Ice

GemstoneKeeper_Terminal.png

Gemstone Keeper Fire

New Years Update

It has now been one full week of 2017, and a lot of people (including myself) have slowly gotten back to work. Since Gemstone Keeper has been getting close to release, I’ve started work as soon as we can to get stuff done.

Before I get into Gemstone Keeper, I worked on a little game for Ludum Dare 37 where the player is stuck in a porta-loo balancing in the air. That game was Danger: Mondays, and after two weeks of voting the results are in. The results for this Ludum Dare were definitely beyond my expectations. While the amount of submissions for the compo were smaller compared to past years (901 compared to 1117 at LD35), that doesn’t devalue the fact that Danger: Mondays achieved a rank just a few places shy of Top 25 in the Humour category of all categories.

capture

Reading all the comments, I was glad people found the concept amusing, but I’m completely grateful at the how well I did this time around. Thank you to everyone who voted during the day. Apologies for not posting about Ludum Dare any sooner, but I was working on a bigger game.

To be a bit more descriptive, Boss Rush will have the player beating all five bosses as fast as possible, they are able to set the stats and weapons of their explorer before hand and they regain some of their health after defeating each boss.

Score mode allows the player to go through the caverns, and like the daily run mode, will try and get the highest score possible by collecting as many gemstones and materials as they can on a single run. This time however, the player is free to set the seed they want, which will effect all aspects of the game from the levels, player stats, which weapon they have and which items they’ll have at the start.

One of the benefits of working on these game modes (from a developer’s perspective) is that we go through all the main game modes again to not only ensure they work through both the main game mode and these smaller game modes, but to find any bugs or issues that was missed out the first few times.

Another update we’ve done is on the gemstones themselves, namely how they are rendered. Originally, the Gemstone Geometry was generated using a Gemstone Mesh Generator that was developed at PROCJAM, and then rendered using a custom software approach using SFML (you can read a comprehensive write up of this on my websites in part 1 and part 2). However, over the last week of December, it was decided that it was time to update this for performance and to improve quality by changing the rendering process to an OpenGL Hardware render approach.

Below you can see the difference, on the left is the software approach, and the right is the new hardware approach:

This weekend I’ve been playing around with post-process effects, as it would be nice to have some visual effects that would appear through the entire game, although it would be possible for the player to disable certain effects if that want to. To pull this off, the framework now has a multipass post processing system where it’s possible to disable certain effects.

This allows us to apply multiple post process effects at once, and allows us to add the options we need to allow players to enable/disable certain ones.

CRT Shader

Bloom Shader

This is only a small sample of what is being planned, leading up to Gemstone Keeper’s release on March 31st 2017. I’ll also be attending London Gaming & Anime Con in early February and GDC in San Francisco later in the month, however the latter will just be as an attendee.

Here’s to 2017 being a successful year for many people!

GBJAM, Talks and Progress

Over the last month I’ve been working day and night, and having some fun in a few places as well.

From October 1st to October 10th was the GBJAM5, the games jam where the theme is the original gameboy. While the aim is to make a game that could play on an original gameboy, the only rules that matter is the resoluton being 160 x 144 pixels and only using 4 colour graphics. I’ve been taking part since the first one back in 2013, and I’ve only missed GBJAM2. It’s a jam I love because it’s small, I love the restriction of the game’s size and graphics, plus growing up with a Gameboy Color means I have a bit of nostalgia for the system.

Despite the games jam lasting 10 days, I was going to spend the weekend in Dublin so I could spend some time with my sister, who’s been travelling around Africa for a few months. I decided to work on a really simple game idea, a block moving from start to finish, avoiding some obstacles on the way. The idea ended up being so simple it took me the first day to get basic graphics moving on the screen, some obstacles and a palette swapping system. I was able to use the rest of the time updating the graphics, adding a few more objects like locks, keys and bouncepads, as well as a transitional effect and some other screens to make the game feel complete and authentic.

The end result was MonoCube, an action puzzle game where all you have to do is get to the end.   During the development process I got a surprising amount of attention, and even after submitting the game early I got several comments, the game ended up getting 7th place in gameplay! You can check out the game here.

On November 8th, I will be speaking at the Digital Technology Conference at Stoke Campus, Staffordshire University. My talk will be about Indie Game Development and the Steam Greenlight process, on what I did to get Gemstone Keeper greenlit and offering my advice. This will be the first time I’ve gone to the Stoke campus as a Graduate, and I look forward to seeing what the campus is like since the games and computing departments all moved from Stafford earlier in the year.

Now I’m going to return to Gemstone Keeper, I’ve got one planned boss remaining to work on, and I’m also focusing some time on the audio (both music and sound effects). In the meantime, I’ve updated the game’s titlescreen, as I felt the original could have had a more authentic layout, as well as some improved scrolling for the background.

Graphics Overhaul and a Lesson in Font Licensing

So just as I was about to start on the next boss in Gemstone Keeper, an issue arose that I needed to resolve over the weekend. Due to licensing issues regarding the font I had been using to produce the graphics for Gemstone Keeper for over a year, I had to switch to another font. This would not be a problem for a vast majority of games, however when you are developing a game that uses ASCII art, with designs built specifically for that font in mind, this was a time consuming issue.

Continue reading

August is a Busy Month…

So I have been around quite a few places this month, because of this my progress on Gemstone Keeper has been a bit shakey. Progress pretty much stopped earlier this week because I fell ill on the Sunday evening and I’ve only managed to recover to a working state on Wednesday. There has been one main update if you follow me on Twitter, the new spider boss! Designing this boss allowed me to improve my skeletal code as well as try out a new boss mechanic, slowing the player down with webbing!

https://i2.wp.com/i.imgur.com/cN93VD2.gif

So I’ve been to three key places:

Electomagnetic Field 2016

This is a bi-annual festival for all things geeky in the world of technology, software, cyber-security, hacking, mathematics ect. I camped for three nights with running electricity and wi-fi (yes, really) provided by the organizers and there were many workshops, talks and projects dotted around the place. I went back in 2014 after a friend invited me and I loved it so much I’d thought I return. It was a bit further than last year (Guildford instead of Bletchley), but they definitely expanded in size and activities. Everyone was also given a badge that you could connect via wi-fi and run apps, I even wrote my own! Would definitely look forward to it again in 2018:

Berlin

This was a proper vacation for me, and unbeknownst to me until days before I went, I was going to be in Berlin during the same time period as Gamescom was running in Cologne. I did think about visiting Cologne for a day to check out Gamescom but I felt the cost was too much and I wanted to see Berlin. It was also near the end of this trip that I caught a bug so the flight back was painful. Still a very nice trip to have, seeing the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Book Burning Memorial outside Humboldt University, even the Computerspiele Museum, so I did at least one video gaming thing in Germany.

Insomnia58 Games Festival

https://i1.wp.com/www.citynitesguides.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/insomnia.png

Yes, the one that starts tomorrow! I’ll be at Insomnia58 and I’ll be bringing Gemstone Keeper to the Indie Zone with me! It’ll be there for all four days, although I might wonder around every now and then to see what the festival has to offer. But if you are visiting the Birmingham NEC from the 26th – 29th, go check out the Indie Zone, there are loads of cool independent games on show there that are worth trying out.