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!

Continue reading »

Jul 28 2014

PLAN

The Android build is overrunning a touch. The good news is that we’re down to the last few bugs so it’ll be ready to ship any week now. x_x

Here’s what I’ll be doing once it’s out:

  1. A quick 1.04 patch to the Flash and iOS versions. Not sure what it’ll add on the Flash side yet; maybe I’ll make Scavengers fight back! The iOS version will bring the new content over from 1.01 through 1.03, add rumble support and hopefully fix a long-standing issue with iOS 5 (if I can get my hands on a phone!). I estimate this will come through in mid-August.
  2. Patch 1.1, which will add an endless mode and a new character class. I’m aiming to finish this by the end of September for Flash, iOS and Android.
  3. The desktop version! Goodness knows I’ve had to push this back far enough, but I’d really like to get the endless mode in before putting this up. I can’t be sure yet how long it’ll take to set up a nice desktop version and hook it into Steam, but given it’s already running okay in Flash, let’s say end of October. This will be for Windows, Mac and Linux.
  4. After that, I’ll work on content updates. How far I go with this depends on how well the new versions and updates sell, but, I’m planning to add some more items and a few more character classes at least.

The last year’s been a bit of a slog, to be honest. Getting the iOS and Android versions running and feeling nice took way longer than I expected. Joke’s on me – it’s the first time I’d done any mobile development and I really thought it’d be quick :)

Jun 24 2014

CARDINAL QUEST 2 PATCH 1.03

Hey everybody! This patch has a few balance changes and a couple new features. The biggest is “Glide”, a new skill you can find that replaces “Haste” and allows you to leap and glide over some obstacles. A close second is a consumable that lets you see a little more about how the game works. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring them both!

The patch is up on Kongregate. The game also has official badges there now, including an Impossible badge for hitting 120k score. Have fun getting this one!

The next patch will be delayed a bit while I wrap up work on the Android build. Here’s the good news: once the Android version’s out I’ll be able to spend some time working on new content, like perks, a unique “endless” mode and maybe even new characters. :)

BUG FIXES

  • Clicks on consumables during spell casting will now be ignored
  • Spells will no longer spawn on top of exits
  • Fixed some glitches in boss cutscenes (especially Act 1′s)

GENERAL TWEAKS

  • You will now gain more Morale from gold and kills on higher difficulties (+10% on Hard, +25% on Suicide)
  • The awareness boost enemies get when wounded has been reduced
  • Some abilities that move enemies can now drop them into lethal pits or lava (where available)

CLASSES AND SKILLS

  • “Haste”: replaced with new skill “Glide”
  • “Reveal Area”: now reveals nearby treasure as well as walls and obstructions
  • “Smite”: renamed to “Vital Strike”, reduced bleed effect durations
  • Wizard’s “Ice Blast”: reduced cooldown, reduced strength of freezing effect
  • Pugilist’s “Sweep”: slightly increased stun duration
  • Paladin’s “Judgement”: reduced cooldown
  • Thief’s “Speed Runner” perk: replaced with “Airstrike” (now grants “Glide” instead of “Haste”)

ITEMS

  • Added two new consumable items to discover, “Tome” and “Spyglass”
Jun 04 2014

CARDINAL QUEST 2 PATCH 1.02

I’m working away on the Android build. It’s running on my Galaxy S now, the UI issues are mostly cleared up, so it’s getting there! I’m starting work on the API integration – leaderboards and so forth.

Still, I’m trying to stick to the habit of updating the game every two weeks with fixes and at least something new. So I put aside a couple days and made Patch 1.02!

The main changes are another round of improvements to the Thief, a new skill to find in the world, two new weapons, and some overdue fixes to the Act 3 boss fight.

As before, the updated version is now live on Kongregate.

iOS players: sorry for the wait! I can’t push a build to iOS without testing it thoroughly, which with a game like this takes longer than I’ve spent making either 1.01 or 1.02. For now, these little Flash updates and the feedback I get from them are helping to make sure the next iOS update will be a good one.

BUG FIXES

  • Fixed a number of AI issues in Act 3 boss fight where allies and enemies were often failing to attack or cast spells.
  • Fixed bug where game could sometimes lose some progress towards streak achievements when closed and re-opened.
  • Fixed bug where consecrated Stealth/Heavy weapons were losing their weapon type and gaining extra stat points instead.
  • Flash version now ignores first mouse click when regaining focus.
  • Fixed a rare bug that could cause the game to crash between levels.
INTERFACE
  • Main menu now shows achievement rank number.
  • Updated Achievements screen to make room for additional achievements in future.

CLASSES AND SKILLS

  • Added new skill “Smite”.
  • “Sleep” effect updated. Enemies that are asleep can no longer block. Instead, hitting sleeping enemies will wake them up faster.
  • Pugilist “Sweep” skill tweaked to balance changes to sleep effect.
  • Thief: Increased base Defense by 1.
  • Thief perk “Speed Runner”: increased bonus to +3 faith.
  • Thief perk “Bosh”: increased length of daze effect.

ITEMS

  • Added two new Stealth weapons.
  • Moved Stiletto later and rebalanced accordingly.

MORTAL PERILS

  • Fixed bug where Act 3 boss, Shiurath, did not have a ranged damage spell.

 

May 19 2014

CARDINAL QUEST 2 PATCH 1.01

There were a few odd bugs in the launch Flash version so I figured I’d do an update to patch them out. Then I spent the weekend putting in a few new things to make it bit more interesting :D

The main stuff here is that I’ve added two weapon classes (Stealth and Heavy) with unique bonuses, made Polymorph more interesting, and buffed some weak builds for the Fighter, Wizard and Thief.

The updated version is now live on Kongregate.

BUG FIXES

  • Fixed extremely rare bug where levels 1-2, 1-3 or 3-6 could generate without an exit. Saved games blocked by this bug should automatically regenerate the level or skip to the next on load.
  • Fixed broken spell targeting cursor. Cursor now shows viable targets and area-of-effect.
  • Keyboard target cycling (default: tab) no longer targets distant enemies for “Uppercut”, “Headbutt”, “Leech”.
  • Fixed bug where Thief’s “Flash Bomb” could become permanently unusable.
  • Locked cupboards in 1-7 can now be opened from the inside.
  • Fixed bug where Teleport Away could break your progress in 1-7.
  • Pugilist’s dodging can no longer move on top of doors.
  • Magic Mirrors and summons no longer drop gear for Fighter’s “I’ll Make It Fit” perk.
  • Cause of death fixed when burning to death in a fire.

INTERFACE

  • “vs atk/def” baselines in popups now increase as you progress through areas.
  • Added a text notification when you clear an area of enemies.

CLASSES AND SKILLS

  • Polymorph now preserves health percentage, is less likely to return the same monster type, and occasionally generates surprises.
  • Fighter “Intimidate”: increased effect duration.
  • Fighter “Charge” now guarantees a hit on impact.
  • Thief “Dash”: reduced cooldown.
  • Wizard “Leech”: slightly increased damage.
  • Wizard now starts with a hidden base level of Spell Damage, improving Fireball and Ice Blast.

ITEMS

  • Added two special weapon classes with bonuses for specific uses; “Stealth” weapons have a larger sneak attack multiplier, “Heavy” weapons have a larger critical damage multiplier.
  • When you find equipment, it’s now more likely to be a weapon.
  • Added a new midgame Stealth weapon.
  • Added a new consumable item.

 

Feb 05 2014

THE SUCK HYDRA

There’s a monster in Dungeon Keeper that never appears in the summon lists. It’s a monster that’s been around a while and I think I’ve finally figured out what it means to me and how I want to guard against it.

Etruscan pottery. Photograph by Wolfgang Sauber

As the legend goes, Hercules was set many tasks to atone for his sins. The second was to slay the Lernean hydra, a nine-headed creature whose breath was lethal poison and bile so putrescent that wounds it touched would never heal.

Worst of all, cutting off any of this monster’s heads would cause two more to grow. It was immortal. Continue reading »