AGDQ and Speedrunning

Exciting news: Bleed 2 releases on Feb 8!

I announced this a few places earlier in the week, but it just occurred to me that I never said so here. Oops. To try and spread a little hype, I’m putting out mini-trailers each week until release. Here’s a peek at the next one, demonstrating local co-op.

(If you look closely, you can see that the purple player’s bullets are coloured purple now. It only happens in co-op, and I think it helps players keep track of themselves a little better in the chaos!)

Anyways, I spent the last few weeks working on these mini-trailers, as well as about 70(?) semi-personalized emails for games journalists and entertainers to see if they’ll cover the game. I’ll probably have to wait until release to see if many bit, but the game was already mentioned on a Giant Bomb podcast and articles from Hardcore Gamer and Rock, Paper, Shotgun, so I’m feeling encouraged.

As for this week, I spent most of it at AGDQ (which raised over 2 million bucks for cancer prevention!! WOW!!) Bleed got an early-morning speedrun and I really wanted to see it in person — I even ended up getting put on the couch to provide a little commentary! Here’s the video — I can’t bear to see how I look in it, haha, but maybe you’ll enjoy it. Studio blew through the game despite my distracting him with questions, and it was an honour to be a small part of something so awesome.

I got work done despite being at GDQ, mostly polishing things and trying to solve final bugs before release. I was also inspired by the event, and added a few tiny features in the GDQ sprit.

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Defining Financial Success (aka MMOOONNEEEYYY)

The last two weeks I’ve been working non-stop on getting PR stuff together for the announcement of the game’s release date, and trying to raise some hype before launch (you thought I got a vacation, huh? Maybe later!) You’ll see the results of that soon, so let’s talk money instead!

This week I was asked if I had a sales target for Bleed 2, which is a very important consideration (if I don’t have target numbers, how will I know if the game’s a financial success?) I think the person who asked assumed that I approached the making of Bleed 2 with a business mindset — analyzing sales trends of the original, deciding how long and how much I could spend on the sequel based on weighing the numbers and potential purchases, etc etc etc. (If you’re a business person, and that sounds like a child’s cartoon version of what would actually go into planning something like this, it’s because I have no idea, haha.)

So as you can probably tell, the considerations that went into making Bleed 2 were more like this:

  • The first one sold well! Maybe people would like a second one!
  • I’m still REALLY passionate about the game I made, and have lots of ideas how to expand and improve it!

…and then I started working. I’m not saying this is a SMART way to make games (actually it’s super dumb from a business perspective) but it’s what I did. So, to find my target sales numbers, I have to look at what I’ve already spent on the game, and work backwards from there!

So, here are my Bleed 2 expenses so far. The chart represents $42,000 USD. Yikes!!

Obviously the size of the pieces aren’t accurate — sharing how much I’m paying people feels inappropriate. (Why did I make a pie chart, then? It’s for dramatic effect, okay?? Just hold on a second!!) Things that may be unclear include ‘Advertising’ which is how I categorize exhibitions, and ‘Misc’ in which I lump collaborations that didn’t work out (but still had to be paid) and my occasionally paying to work in a collaborative space. It’s a LOT of money already, but thankfully Bleed did pretty well, so I could manage it…

…except for one glaring thing the chart is missing.

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Happy 2017!!

Happy new years!! As always, I’m gonna slack hardcore on this blog post and just pat myself on the back a little. Here’s all the hours I worked in 2016, totaling 1941 actual hours worked!

I kinda hoped that after tracking my worked hours for over three years, I’d start to see interesting patterns emerge (like months or weeks where I’m most or least productive, something like that) but it’s just turning into a mass of squiggly lines. There are a couple trends I think I can spot, but they mostly correlate to deadlines for big events, like the various PAXes.

Anyways, this means I’ve put about 6,000 hours of work into Bleed 2 so far, so yay for me! The game is nearly done, and the major task in front of me (besides continuing to squash bugs and trying to fix replays) is actually promoting and releasing the game! 2017 is looking like it’ll be an exciting year for me personally, and I hope it’s looking that way for you, too.

Be well, be warm, be creative, and have a happy new year!!

Weapon Improvements!

Merry Christmas! Or, happy holidays or whatever you like. Hope you’re enjoying some time off!

Usually I like to fix up and release an old game for free around this time of year, but I’m just too busy for that right now (you can always check out the ones I’ve released in the past!) Since you don’t want to read endless blog posts about me fixing bugs, here’s a post about some of the improvements I’ve made to Bleed 2’s weapons and controls instead! I’ll mention a few of the unlockables after the break, in case you’re worried about spoilers.

First up we have the standalone versions of the pistols and katana! They mostly exist to accommodate Bleed 1 players who don’t like the combo weapon, so I worry they’ll come off like a waste of space to everyone else. I’ve tried to combat this somewhat by giving them interesting or unique properties — for example, the standalone katana’s flurry attack is weak-ish, but I’ve improved its area of effect, and it’s now great at taking out lots of little enemies up close, like the Chaff Spammer’s chaff.

I also recently changed the standalone pistols to have an alternate firing mode, similar to the original Bleed’s “akimbo pistols”. It isn’t super useful, but it is stylish as hell…! It’s also really hard to use, so I added some aim-assist on the pistol Wryn fires behind her. It was a bit more work than I expected to get her hands and body looking good no matter what contortion she was in, but it was a fun challenge while I was supposed to be relaxing.

Additional weapons and air-dashes are unlocked to use in Freestyle (“Freestyle” is Bleed 2’s name for “New Game+”) and once you have them all they’re a lot to keep track of. I just assumed dedicated players would manage it, but after playtesting Freestyle a bunch it’s a really REALLY cumbersome system. Everyone who thought they wanted to hold more than two weapons at once in Bleed, be careful what you wish for!! (You can still hold as many as you want though haha, don’t worry.)

Anyways, good ol’ Noobii had a great suggestion — now the number keys 1-4 correspond to the first four weapons in your loadout, allowing you to easily swap between them! It makes the game a LOT more smooth and fun when you’re going for really technical Freestyle runs.

You can also do the weapon-swapping with a controller — a menu option makes D-pad directions correspond to the four weapons, instead of moving Wryn around. There’s also another controller option to enable what I’m calling “manual fire” — it makes it so the right stick only aims, and a user-set fire button needs to be pressed to actually attack. Some players aren’t comfortable with the flicking motion to reflect, so hopefully this accommodates them… I have very firm opinions on how the game plays best, but I’m trying to allow people to do what works for them.

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So Many Bugs…!! (And, the Never-Ending Quest for Replays)

It’s that time of year again! Where I intend to give myself a vacation — it’s the freakin’ holidays, man — but end up working on replays instead (I REALLY want Bleed 2 to have them) which led to finding and fixing tons of bugs. I also gave my to-do list of features/polish one more look to see what big items were left to be done. Whee!

First: the to-do list. Other than bugs it’s basically all cut. The past few months I’ve been chipping away at the list, implementing bits of polish and features in-between big items like art and bugfixing, and all that’s left at this point are incredibly minor and superficial items. Maybe if I have time to sneak a few in I’ll add them, but most of them won’t have a tangible impact on the game’s quality and will carry the possibility of introducing bugs, so they just don’t seem worth it. An example of a simple addition I made recently was an indicator to highlight your entry on the leaderboards. It’s useful, and also removed from the core game enough that I feel more than comfortable putting it in.

With that done, I gave fixing replays one more shot. Since their breaking is so hard to reliably reproduce, the game had to be played a TON, which also gave me a chance to do lots of balancing/refining on the unlockable weapons and characters — and to find oodles of bugs.

A HUGE problem I found is that many things weren’t being properly reset when you started a game, including the camera and the player. So starting an Arcade Mode run while holding the jump button down (as shown above) could result in two different outcomes, depending on if the player was last in the air or on the ground. Likewise, the camera’s last position was affecting its position at the start of a new game. These things might seem minor but they really aren’t, because they cause a butterfly-effect that quickly breaks the random number generator and ruins replays. It also allowed for a divide-by-zero error under specific circumstances which messed all kinds of things up.

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To any who don’t know: “localizing” a game is the act of changing it to work in a different language or region. It could be as simple as translating all the text in the game, or as involved as redoing all the voice acting and lip-syncing, or changing the script/images/3D models/etc to fit better with the new culture/language. TO BE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR, Bleed 2 isn’t being localized AT ALL (at least not right now) — it’s an involved and expensive task, while I’m just one English-speaking dude who’s resources are limited.

That said! This week I made basic text translations possible — and hopefully, easy. For example, here’s the main menu run through Google Translate to German (definitely NOT the way you want to localize a game. Apologies to any German speakers, I’m sure this isn’t correct!)

Still, it shows you can change the text!! Most of the text in the game used to be hard-coded, but now it’s all stored in an easily readable, easily editable text file, looking something like this:

It’s not a perfect solution — some elements (for example “BLEED 2” on the menu shown above) remain as images, so they can’t be translated in this way. Still, there’s been a fair amount of fan interest in translating the game, so I hope what I’ve done is enough to make someone (or a few someones) happy.

There was more to it than “okay all the text is in this text file now” so of course you get to read about some of the bumps, yaaaaay!

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This week I went through every level, enemy and boss (so… the whole game) with the goal of unifying how everything feels and looks. There are a bunch of (admittedly fairly common) tricks I use to try and make Bleed 2 feel extra good to play, such as…

  • Hit stun: The game freezes for a split-second to lend extra punch to certain events, like reflecting a large attack
  • Screen shake: The camera shakes around to accentuate events like explosions, heavy objects landing, etc
  • Screen flash: The screen flashes for a split-second, which also accentuates explosions and other strong hits
  • Sprite shake: Enemies themselves shake — a little indicates damage, a lot indicates charging a strong attack
  • Particle effects: Dust clouds, bullets impacts, metal bits and other debris, etc, make the game feel more alive
  • Enemy corpses: Many enemies leave corpses when they die — it just feels better than them disappearing in a puff of smoke or the like (fun fact: enemy corpses move a lot slower than other objects when time is slowed, so you can get that typical anime-style all-the-bad-guys-fall-to-the-ground-at-the-same-time thing going on when you un-slow time.)

…etc etc! But their application wasn’t universal or consistent, so I paid attention to each one to make the game a more unified whole. Many elements were especially missing particle effects, so I had to create a bunch of those as well. The art never stops!

This “consistency” might be hard to consciously appreciate generally, but many areas of the game were sorely lacking in these bits of polish and illustrate really easily the difference between having them and not. For example, the Kitty Chopper’s death animation before:

And the death animation after! It might look a little strange playing out in this debug room, but in-context it makes sense.

I put a bunch of time (maybe too much?) into deciding little details of the particles to make them look as good as possible. For example, the metal scraps fly out from the explosion, but quickly shrink and fade after a set time — it would have been easier to let them simply tumble off-screen like every other particle in the game, but something about it looked really cheap to me and I couldn’t leave it like that.

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Credits: Done!!

I did it!! Yesss!! It took two full weeks of work but Bleed 2’s end credits and cast roll are finally done. I’m really proud of myself for pushing through and making it happen. I’m also mentally exhausted (this might sound overdramatic/indulgent, but art is difficult for me.)

I hope you’ll understand if this post is light — I’d love to show pics of what I worked on, but come on! It’s the ending of the game! Instead, I’ll share a few changes/bits of polish I’ve been adding to bosses lately, and call it a day.

First we have the ninja fight (I don’t think I’ve shown it on the blog before, but it’s in the trailer for a few seconds!) It repeatedly rushes you from random spots in the clouds. It would occasionally appear at locations that put it behind the HUD — hardly fair, so I fixed that. It also attacks REALLY fast on harder difficulties, to the point where if you died, it would be attacking you before the screen fully faded in after the restart. Not only did I fix that here, but I went through all the other bosses and made sure they give you time to respawn before attacking.

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The End Credits

Making Bleed 2’s end credits is a large task that I’ve put off for far too long. This week I finally dove into it! I roughed out the whole sequence in Premiere (the same process I used for the game’s intro) and then penciled, scanned and began inking about 30 images (the same process I used for all the other large images in the game.)

I admit, the only reason the credits are such a big task is because I insist on making them one. Arcade action games aren’t exactly known for their gripping stories or lengthy conclusions, but at least a short ending sequence and a cast roll (showing all the enemies you triumphed over!) lets the player revel in their victory a while and come down from the game’s climax. You can’t deny the old-school satisfaction of a cast roll.

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Bugs EVERYWHERE (and Replay Despair)

This week I finished writing and implementing all the vital dialogue, and started finally, actually testing Bleed 2 on Steam!! Exciting times!! The number of bugs that were revealed was… large. Here’s some descriptions of builds I’ve uploaded in the last few days:

So up until a few days ago, Challenge Mode arenas had no music. Your scores weren’t being sent to the leaderboards when you beat Arcade Mode. You could click a locked box on the character select screen and it’d let you play as them anyway. You could run through the game with “infinite health” on and it’d let you submit the score like it was the most legit thing ever. Etc etc etc. Before this week, I honestly thought I’d found all the bugs in the game! Not so much.

In addition to those bugs, some other interesting exploits(?) were brought to light — for example, the pistols/katana combo weapon.

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