Mar 08 2015

HOTFIX

I’ve started getting the game ready for Steam. There’s a fair bit of work involved in this. I need to add support for Steam achievements and leaderboards, I’m going to strip out Morale and add a new progression system… but the biggest job by far is updating the Flash UI to look nice at higher resolutions. It may be silly to want a game using 16×16 pixel art to look really nice and clean on a big screen, but I’m going to try anyway! Who knows—maybe I’ll find a little time to work in some subtle OpenGL shader effects too. :)

iOS and Android builds are in the queue, waiting for a good release window. For now, I’ve uploaded a stealth patch to Kongregate to tweak the Tower balance slightly based on feedback and fix a few bugs. Here are the details:

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Feb 27 2015

CARDINAL QUEST 2 PATCH 1.1

The Flash version of patch 1.1 is live on Kongregate!

This update introduces THE TOWER and THE ALCHEMIST—two big chunks of content that’ve been in the works for a while. The Tower is our new Endless mode, a world you can keep climbing indefinitely until it kills you; the Alchemist is a new seventh class who specialises in crafting scrolls and potions. Each brings new achievements and new stuff to fight for!

The iOS and Android versions will be updated shortly, likely next week. For now, here are the broad, spoiler-free patch notes! I hope you enjoy exploring the new stuff, and I look forward to seeing how far in the Tower you can get. :)

THE TOWER

  • Added The Tower, an Endless Mode accessible once you’ve unlocked 15 Achievements.
  • Each Achievement Rank you’ve earned now gives you a bonus chest in that floor of the tower, so you can have bonus items up to floor 50.
THE ALCHEMIST
  • Added The Alchemist, a brand new class who specialises in crafting and combining items and inventing new technology.
  • Added Sampling Vials, new items that appear within the Acts and the Tower. To unlock the Alchemist, you must find and use Vials on five bosses to collect blood samples. Alternatively, you can unlock the Alchemist immediately for $5.

GENERAL TWEAKS

  • Consumables (potions, scrolls, etc) can now stack up to 2 per inventory slot.
  • Each class’s “Toughness” talent is now uncapped.

ITEMS

  • Added Alchemist skills “Craft”, “Combine” and “Pistol” to Spellbook.
  • Added six new consumables. Two of them are legendary.

ACHIEVEMENTS

  • High score achievements altered to only trigger on the Acts, not the Tower.
  • “All six classes” achievements for clearing Acts changed to “all classes” (including the Alchemist). However, if you’ve already unlocked these, they’ll stay unlocked.
  • Added six new Alchemist-related achievements.
  • Added five new Tower-related achievements.

BUG FIXES

  • Invincibility Potion now protects against magical damage (e.g. Fireball).
  • iPhone: Fixed Retina support on iOS 8 (and possibly iOS 5?).
Feb 13 2015

LOCKDOWN // MULTIPLATFORM

Developing for multiple platforms can make things interesting. It’s not just the different hardware capabilities, incompatible backends for standard features and differing expectations: there are also different platform philosophies to deal with.

Apple like to vet apps and updates that go on the App Store. This lets them make basic assurances that apps won’t brick your phone and steal your identity. Unfortunately, the delay on vetting apps and updates can be a week or two. This has an awkward side-effect: if an update that passes contains a critical bug, it might take a week or two to get a fix out. Builds need to be tested much more thoroughly first.

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Feb 11 2015

THE TOWER

Patch 1.1 is feature complete. It just needs testing and bugfixing now. That means it will be coming out this month across iOS, Flash and Android. I’ll then be immediately starting work on the Steam version for Windows, Mac and Linux.

It’s taken me a while to recover since I posted about burnout in October. Since then I’ve been trying to get my passion for cool games and cool stuff back, playing loads of interesting games and putting together neat little projects like New Year Stories and a Harry Potter/Neuromancer computer mashup and some new EDM sounds.

That eventually brought me back to working on CQ2 in January, but I wasn’t sure if it’d stick… so I tried to avoid making promises in case I flaked out on them again. Now that I’ve finished work on the update, though, I feel like it’s okay for me to talk about it again! If you’ve been following CQ2, thank you so much for being patient :)

The two big things in 1.1 are The Tower and The Alchemist. I’ve touched on the new class previously, so here’s the main stuff to know about The Tower: it’s Cardinal Quest 2′s endless mode. It’s one big remix of everything, with a few new rules to mix things up.

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Jan 08 2015

HARRY POTTER x NEUROMANCER

“Hey, Maelcum,” Case said, jacking out, “I’m probably gonna be under the greatest headmaster Hogwarts has ever seen.”

“I wondered where it had hit the windshield;” and to his horror Harry realized that the glasses were surgically inset, sealing her sockets.

Space adaptation syndrome was worse than having a cupboard as a bedroom.

“Don’t take a chance, do you? Wouldn’t give me any junkie, huh? I know what this is — it’s Devil’s Snare!” “Oh, I’m so glad we know what it’s like to have a pee with her wailing at you -” “Look, food!” said Ron.

“You will be able to get the surgery, costs to have them jack your nervous system up so you’ll have more to lose when they come and take you away from school.”

“Well? Why aren’t you all copying that down?” There was a rising whine of motors and the thing looked real as Marcus Garvey, a wingless antique jet, its smooth skin plated with black chrome.

“Herr Wage,” Ratz said, slowly extending his pink manipulator swinging jauntily at his side—the Bludger came pelting toward him; he avoided it so narrowly that he felt it ruffle his hair as it passed.

He’d missed the first wasp, when it built its paperfine gray house on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn’t a teacher to cross.

Possibly Lockhart had noticed, because he said, “Enough demonstrating! I’m going to mess up this rentacop came after me with nun chucks.”

Harry swung his legs up onto his bed and leaned back against his pillows, watching the moon glinting at him through a dozen impossible angles, tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami crane.

Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled most of the last few hours in which they were allowed to do magic before the holidays.

“You fed Draco Malfoy some cock-and-bull story about a dragon, trying to get him out, Ron, because that would get you rolled in Night City, rolled straight into a black clinic in Chiba City.”

The matrix blurred, resolved, and he saw a blurred stream of fireplaces and snatched glimpses of the rooms beyond—his bacon sandwiches were churning inside him—he closed his eyes ready for the crash—It didn’t come.

He worked quickly, mechanically, fastening the construct to the bottom of his trunk right after dinner, and spent the evening sitting on it, waiting for the Dursleys to get up.

“Master, I cannot hold him—my hands—my hands!” And Quirrell, though pinning Harry to the ground to get the Flatline’s construct…

Riviera’s holographic aura had faded with the lights, but Case could still see him, standing with his wand and a second later as the chandelier gave way.

“You’re right Harry,” said Hermione in a small wooden house on the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled from random frames.

It seemed to be caving. “Run for it!” Ron shouted, throwing his full weight against his door, but next second he was gathering speed in a steep dive, racing the ball—wind whistled in his ears, his own blood, razored sheets of light bisecting his skull at a dozen angles.

“Nice big smile, Harry,” said Lockhart, while Hermione folded the note with fumbling fingers and slipped it into her bag and they left, trying not to laugh as he watched the loser’s zodiac of Freeside, the nightclub constellations of the hologram sky, shift, sliding fluid down the axis of darkness, to swarm like live things at the dead center of reality.

Oct 13 2014

RESET

This is difficult to write, but here goes: I’ll be taking a short break from games development. When I come back, I’ll be throwing out current plans and re-assessing how I finish CQ2. I’ll still be finishing it, and soon, but I can’t say exactly when. The desktop Win/Mac/Linux version in particular probably won’t be out this year.

Let me explain.

I’m approaching four years of indie development now, three of those on Cardinal Quest 2. Across those four years, between CQ2, Vigilance and some contracting, I’ve personally earned a total of £25,564. As a full-time salary that works out at about £3.82 an hour; well under the minimum wage here in the UK and deeply below the living wage here in London.

Now, this sort of thing is what you’d expect starting up a new business and working on a long project that only brings in money at the end. And I did have savings… until they ran out last year. Most importantly, I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful partner who’s supported me financially through all of this.

Nevertheless, my bank balance has been bouncing along close to zero for a couple years. This is troubling. The only way to keep it in the air has been to Release Things. Maybe that’s good motivation to some? My experience has been it’s a source of stress, desperation and burnout.

This pressure has pushed me to commit to deadlines I probably couldn’t meet. I committed to unlikely deadlines because not meeting them would make getting by until the next release or update even harder. (I often didn’t meet them, and it often did.)

It’s pushed me to take uncomfortable shortcuts. For example: the game only stores progress locally. This means the Kongregate.com version’s saved progress can be lost to an overzealous browser purge. It also means progress isn’t shared between iOS and Android. This is something I hate. Still, because of the work involved in setting up a parallel saved-progress system and hooking it up to online infrastructure, I cannot afford to fix it.

It’s pushed me to withdraw from people and talk about my work less. The tighter money has been and the longer CQ2 has taken, the more I’ve had to focus on it – and that work has been more and more about necessity than doing cool stuff I’m excited to show everyone.

Often, over the past year or so, worrying about this stuff has made it hard to work at all.

I want to keep making games for a long time. Games are awesome!

I also want to make them the best games they can be. Right now, with CQ2, the stresses of development have left me thinking about doing as little as possible to drop the game on Steam as quickly as possible and walking away - just to get it over with. That wouldn’t be doing it justice, I wouldn’t be proud of finishing it like that, and it’s not a sustainable way to make games.

There’s a whole bunch of games I want to make next. There’s an old prototype I’d like to do something with, a shmup-fighter based on not understanding Nidhogg’s trailer. There’s this card game about tactical spaceship combat that I’m really excited about. I’d also like to make a puzzle game about terra-forming; an apocalyptic RPG set on an interplanetary theme park; a chilled-out simulation of driving without going anywhere in particular; a local co-op game about being the worst band ever; and so on.

If I’m going to finish all these games and do them justice, I need to find a way to complete big projects without coming to hate them and myself. So please bear with me while I take the first real break I’ve had in four years, get my head straight, and – with any luck – come back ready to make CQ2′s desktop release and future updates fully awesome. 

Sep 17 2014

ANDROID/SWIPE/ALCHEMIST

Yet another day’s just passed where I’ve been too busy working on CQ2 to write about it, and it’s been forever since the last update! So here goes – a super quick update about everything that’s going on.

  • The Android build is currently running through the process at Kongregate. As soon as they’re happy to announce a release date for Google Play I’ll pass it on.
  • While it’s been in this process, I’ve taken the opportunity to add swipe controls as an option. This will be in the Android launch and will be in the 1.04 update for iOS going live about the same time. It should make the game much better on bigger phones and tablets.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on the big 1.1 update. Here’s a quick peek at the new class, the Alchemist:

The Alchemist introduces the game’s first crafting mechanic! They’re eccentric potions experts, a bit flaky in a fight but capable of making usable items from scratch and combining poor items into better ones.

And yes, they’re a bit steampunk. :)

Not only can the Alchemist make and refine items, they also get an extra item pocket… and in this update, everyone can carry up to two identical items per slot, so six slots means up to twelve items. Knowing when to use an item and when to ditch it matters more than ever here – it’s the rapid production and use of special one-shot items that makes the Alchemist a formidable adventurer.

I’ll do a full class update soon. Until then, I’m getting back to work on this and the Endless Mode so I can get them to you ASAP!

Aug 20 2014

CARDINAL QUEST 2 PATCH 1.04

Hi all! Another mini patch has gone up on Kongregate today, introducing two big new features. Scavengers will now fight back (and drop cool gear!), and there are a few strange chests scattered around containing some strangely powerful things…

This update is pretty much tidying up loose ends and laying the groundwork for 1.1, which I’ll be putting together over the next month and writing about here – to the extent I can avoid spoilers! I’m hoping Legendary items will add a bit more confusion and mystery to the game now that it’s so well documented.  There are several in the game now and I’ll absolutely be adding more. :)

This week I’m finalising the Android release with the publisher. I’ll be submitting an iOS update to 1.04 shortly as well (which will likely take a week or two to filter through iTunes).

1.04 patch notes below.

GENERAL TWEAKS

CLASSES AND SKILLS

  • Thief now starts with an additional Sleep Powder

ITEMS

  • Increased minimum damage of all Axes
  • Added a selection of super-rare Legendary Items
  • Legendary Items come from special chests, which are more common on higher difficulties
  • Added a new spell dropped by Scavengers

MORTAL PERILS

  • Scavengers will now fight you

ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Added two new Scavenger-related Achievements
Aug 13 2014

XP SCALING

This post’s a fairly abstract look under the hood of one of the changes I’m making to CQ2 for 1.04.

THE PROBLEM

CQ2 is big. Running through all the acts with all the classes is a 20+ hour job, never mind trying different builds and approaches. Getting all the achievements has taken people 200 hours of play time. Our QA consultant estimated recently it would take at least half that time with each new build to make sure everything’s working. It’s no longer possible for me to comprehensively try out changes to the game simply by playing it – not if I want to make a big change that affects lots of stuff and release an update a few days later.

So when I want to mess around with major systems, I do a lot of spreadsheet simulation.

(Mild spoilers ahead.)

The experience scaling in CQ2 has troubled me for a long time. Every XP level takes twice the experience of the previous. Since you normally gain about one XP level per area and enemies tend to show up in two- to three-area blocks, a tough enemy that gives you half an XP level when you first encounter it might only give you 5% ten minutes later. Now, that’s mostly fine! Unlike many games with experience systems, CQ2 has super-tight progression; you can’t wonder into the wrong area. I can fill every area with level-appropriate enemies and adjust their XP accordingly. Until now, that’s what I’ve been doing.

There are just a few minor problems. The first is that XP bonuses and penalties are almost irrelevant, since even halving your XP or doubling it only shifts your final level by one. The second is that the “charge on XP” skills in the game, like Heal and Enslave, become incredibly volatile due to the wild swings in XP between enemies and whenever you level up. You can out-level the enemies nearby with just a few big kills, and then your XP gain drops to practically zero.

So I’m making it better!

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