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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Lots o’ Polish!

Alright! My goal right now is getting Bleed 2 to a bare-minimum “shippable” state as soon as possible. Over the last few weeks I’ve re-balanced the audio based on Joonas’ feedback. I’ve played through the game using each weapon, making sure they’re all working and fun. I’ve gone through the game with every character, making sure they can actually complete it with their various limitations and unique abilities. I’ve found and solved a lot of bugs (funny how the to-do list grows even as you’re trying to shrink it.)

Right now I’m writing a small-but-important amount of dialogue for each character (sitting with my coffee and my laptop, thinking about the personalities of my characters and what they’d say to each other — I feel like it’s like the most pie-in-the-sky version of what people imagine when they think “I want to make games!” Within a day I’ll be actually implementing the dialogue though, fixing the litany of bugs they create and patching up all the missing art assets I discover, haha.)

Anyways, I’ve added a bunch of polish and little features along the way, and I think those would be more fun to read about, so here you go!

I discovered I can add extra details to Steam leaderboard entries, so I started taking advantage of that! Now you’ll be able to see the character someone used, their rankings for each level, where they died, etc etc etc. It’s probably nothing special to someone who knows what they’re doing, but I’m still new enough at coding Things That Use The Internet that it makes me really excited.

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So, How’s the Game Coming…?

Happy Halloween! There’s a bunch of things I could blog about, but I figured I’d directly address the question I get asked most, and talk about how things are coming and what release is looking like. Here’s the current remaining to-do list (small and blurred for spoilers):

todolist

It’s a lot left to go, but it’s probably less than it looks like…? Maybe…?

  • Page one has the biggest tasks — mainly the end credits sequence (lots of art!) and trying to make the game work with a greater variety of controllers. Other than that it’s mostly self-reminders to remove debug elements, so users can’t accidentally reset their achievements with the press of a button, for example.
  • Page two is all the medium-priority stuff that needs to be done — balancing a few characters/weapons, fixing some bugs, writing all the extra dialogue, testing cloud saves and other Steam features, etc.
  • Everything beyond is increasingly minor, and things I could ship without. Page three is a lot of polish or features I’d like to get in if I have the time — for instance, I’d like to indicate on the score screen if players set a new record, and store all the game’s text in an easily-editable file (in case someone wants to make a fan-translation or something.)
  • Page four is more polish, but items at that point are things most people probably wouldn’t notice or care if they made it in… things that would add background detail to the world, but many will probably be more work than they’re worth and get cut.
  • Page five is all things that would need to happen in order for replays to work, so those will probably be cut too.

So considering all that, you could mentally chop the last two pages off to get a realistic look at the work ahead! I’m keeping them around just in case I get time, though.

Even then, I’m gonna say Bleed 2 won’t be out by the end of the year. To anyone this disappoints: I’m very sorry. Back in August, end-of-year seemed like a potentially-hittable goal, and I guess technically it still is, but it doesn’t seem like a smart decision. Thanks to the MEGABOOTH and other events, I’ve been able to talk to a LOT of industry folks, and it’s apparently common knowledge that releasing in December is a kiss of death to an indie game (and it does make sense, with all the huge releases and massive sales going on.)

Accepting that: if I was going to release this year, it’d be in November, which would give me five weeks or less to solve all these issues, create all these assets, etc etc, as well as trying to hype up the release and get some kind of press attention, to say nothing of actually playtesting the game and responding to that feedback. I don’t even know if that’s all possible in that timeframe, and if it is, it would certainly come at a cost to both myself and the quality of my work.

So! Work continues, the game is coming along, but the release window shifts from the nebulous “Late 2016/Early 2017” to the slightly-less-nebulous “Early 2017”! I hope I’ve been clear as to why, and hope anyone waiting for the game can be patient just a little longer! I will continue to do my best to get it out as soon as possible in its best possible form. Thank you for your understanding.

More Difficulty Tuning!

I made the IGF deadline! I worked a ton of hours this week, but I got all the audio problems solved, and all audio reasonably balanced. If you’re wondering what kind of issues might crop up with audio, some examples are:

  • Sounds not playing if they were exactly vertically aligned with the camera
  • Looping sounds continuing to play even after the boss/enemy/etc was dead
  • Ducking being completely broken / not working

…et cetera! I’ll probably need to do one more pass to make sure all sounds are playing at good volumes, but in general, it’s all peachy.

 

Tuning Difficulty

I had some time left over before the submission deadline, so I did a full pass of the game’s difficulty, too! For a while I’ve worried the game was fun, but kind of unengaging — besides not having any audio, I think a lack of difficulty was to blame. I went through the game on Very Hard, level by level, boss by boss, and tuned everything way up!

Now, I recognize that I’m really good at Bleed 2. What feels too easy to me is probably way too hard for many others. With that in mind, I didn’t even touch the Easy or Normal difficulties for 90% of these changes — I tuned Very Hard to what I felt was a real good (but fair) challenge, and then changed Hard to make a smoother transition across difficulties. So in the highly accurate graph below, the red line is what the progression was like before, compared to the yellow progression now.

It also got me thinking  about how I tune difficulty, and I think I rely on three methods: raw numbers, fairness, and what I want as a player.

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The Intro

Bleed 2 reached an awesome milestone this week — all audio is in the game!! I ran through it once to test everything out, and I can’t stress how much more engaging and alive the game is now!

I remember having a similar moment with the original Bleed — working on the same game for years, and in partial/total silence… I still love it, but after a while I’ve seen it all before a thousand times, and I start to worry that even the most exciting moments have become stale… I start to lose perspective, and worry that what I’m feeling in those moments is how the player will feel when they play it for the first time! But then the audio finally gets in there, suddenly the game is ALIVE and EXCITING and FRESH, and I get this massive adrenaline-rush kick in the pants at seeing it come together! (Hopefully THAT will be more reflective of a player’s first time, haha!)

Anyways, all audio in is fantastic, but it also exposed a ton of problems with how I’m handling the audio (like the timing of cutscenes, or bugs with looping audio, or sound effects being too quiet or too loud, etc.) But, this is what I accounted for and what I’ll spend the next week in crunch-mode fixing, ideally in time for the IGF submission! Even with all those problems and deadlines, it’s really, really exciting for me to be at this point. It’s almost like an actual game now!

Speaking of being an actual game, this week I made that short intro sequence I talked about last post!

I’ve never paid so much attention to the timing of audio and how things fit together! But now that I’ve got this pro-level audio, the attention is definitely deserved. I roughed out my plans for an intro sequence using my ancient copy of Premiere, trying to make it fit to Jukio’s music and mood! Once I was happy with it, I started drawing and animating (and I’ve gone into my process in past posts, so I won’t do so here.)

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IGF Countdown!

Please forgive any lameness in this post, which was written on my phone during an extended power surge/failure! I hope it didn’t explode my computer… happy Canadian Thanksgiving indeed! (UPDATE from my computer: she’s 7 years old but she’s still kickin’!)

A bit of cool news on the other hand — Bleed (the original) has been chosen to appear in the upcoming AGDQ!! If you’re unfamiliar with GDQ events please check them out — it’s basically world-class speedrunners absolutely destroying games for 7 days straight, raising tons of money for charity as they go. It’s a privilege to be a part of it, even in a small way.

In Bleed 2 news, things are getting hectic around here! Two weeks remain to submit Bleed 2 to the IGF (the annual Independent Games Festival.) If you don’t know the IGF, think of it as the Oscars for indie games. They judge in a variety of categories like Design, Audio and Narrative — so while the game’s story won’t win any awards, Joonas and Jukio’s brilliant audio work just might!

My final week of IGF prep is really well-defined, but the coming (second-last) week, not so much. I pretty much finished all the medium-priority bugs and to-do’s this week, which leaves me with only major and minor tasks ahead! The major tasks (like the art-heavy credits sequence) will take more than a week, so I’ll go through the minor tasks instead, and work on those which will most impact the game’s quality.

For example, Jukio completed the Bleed 2 theme song this week, which he shared a bit of on Twitter:

Not only is it freakin’ AWESOME, it has that cool opening section. Listening to it gave me an idea for a simple intro sequence to match, which would give the story context and make the game’s opening more dramatic and exciting! I don’t think many people watch those intros, but for those who do (like judges…?) it could add a lot. (I realize I just poked fun at the game’s relatively simple story, but first impressions and context are important!) This will likely be my last unplanned addition to the game.

Working mostly alone can make picking hard deadlines seem arbitrary, and I believe there’s great value in the “when it’s done” approach. Even so, at some point you have to draw the line (and I’m getting close to the four-year mark) so events like the IGF, PAX, etc. (along with my large release window) help provide focus to the project and keep me motivated to finish the damn thing! Let’s do it!

Weapons (Some Spoilers!)

One thing I worked on this week was tuning the weapons for Bleed 2! I’m showing a few unlockable weapons in this post, so I’ve hidden those behind the break in case you’re spoiler-averse.

In non-spoilery terms: the original Bleed’s weapons had a lot of issues. When designing them I focused purely on the numbers and their use in ideal situations, as if everyone playing the game was a flawless machine (or a TASer!) Many weapons were theoretically powerful, but in reality underwhelming and pointless. Others were straight-up balanced poorly — see some DPS (damage-per-second) values from the original:

  • Pistols: 123
  • Rockets: 66
  • Laser: 91
  • Katana: 150 (used perfectly), 72 (used normally)
  • Revolver: 350 (used perfectly), 62 (used normally)

…yeah. This time around, I want weapons to feel powerful and fun even in casual use. For example, the starting weapons in Bleed 2 are the pistols and katana (which can be used as a combo weapon, or as standalones separately.) Here’s the current DPS breakdown for them:

  • Pistols: 170
  • Katana (Reflecting Swipe): 150
  • Katana (Standalone Flurry): 160

I don’t want players to feel they need to button-mash to excel, so the auto-fire attacks of the pistols and the flurry do more damage than spamming the reflect. Also, while the standalone katana weapon does less damage than the pistols, they’re all pretty close — so if you’re all about the katana I hope you can play the game without feeling terribly underpowered.

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Jukio’s Revenge!!

I finally took a vacation this week, at a family cottage! I seem to have trouble not working as I still put in about 12 hours, but it was mostly artwork which was a relaxing change of pace — in general it was some much-needed downtime. I’m feeling way better now and ready to rock. WHOOP!

Since I got very little done, I thought I’d share some more of the music that Jukio Kallio’s been creating instead!! (If you missed the clips of his I shared previously, you can find them in this blog post.)

 
GET READY TO ROCK:

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Week In Review — Sept 18

This week I worked on things that blog poorly, like the controller rumble system and implementation. So now all actions and characters have controller rumble (which you can also disable in the options, don’t worry!) but do you really want to read about that…? I’m guessing no, so here’s a couple random things I’ve added and thought about over the last few months.

 

Health Pickups

Yes, yes, you say. We know about health pickups. Well, some of them were more challenging to implement than you’d expect! They’re exclusive to Arcade Mode, and most are hidden out of the way so you have to sacrifice a bit of time to get them, but two levels in Bleed 2 really don’t have anywhere to hide them (like in the picture above!) I want each level to have one, though… what to do?

My solution is that the two troublesome levels begin with the pickups in plain view, and the level won’t properly begin until they’re gone. Players have three options: grab the health and begin the level, wait five seconds for the pickup to fade, or shoot the pickup to destroy it. I think grabbing health will clear your style meter, so if you care about score (or are too cool for extra health) shooting is the quickest-but-riskiest option. The fourth, fastest option, is to begin the level at max health, in which case the health pickup never spawns and the level begins immediately.

The health spawns at an awkward high position right now because I don’t want players to accidentally grab it as it appears, but there’s better ways of doing this and I’ll probably polish it up at some point. Since these kinds of health pickups aren’t hidden, grabbing them won’t get you the achievement for finding ‘hidden’ health pickups. Lastly, the two levels with health in plain view are roughly one-third and two-thirds of the way through the game, so they’ll work out pretty well for beginners attempting Arcade Mode, I think!

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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Exhibiting At PAX

It’s been a week since PAX West! It was an amazing time showing off Bleed 2, and the response has been even more positive than I’d hoped for! Most people who played seemed to really enjoy it, and several large websites have even been kind enough to write about the game, including IGN, Destructoid and IndieGames.com. Woohoo! (EDIT: Now Hardcore Gamer too, yay!!)

I thought I’d record some thoughts from exhibiting at PAX while they’re still fresh in my head. Mostly, it’ll be answers to the questions I was asking everyone before I went, in case others want them answered too. Please keep in mind I’m just some rando first-time PAX exhibitor, so none of this is necessarily right — it’s just my perspective, along with some insights from other developers who I spoke to!

I’ll pepper in shots from the show to break up the text, plus at least one pie chart. You can’t do these kinds of things without pie charts.

 

How Much Does It Cost?

Short answer: a lot! The MEGABOOTH estimates teams set aside $3-6,000 USD to exhibit (not including travel costs) and I found that to be accurate — I made it work for about $4,250 USD. That includes things like the rental of the booth space (I had a 10×10 booth, about $1,900 alone) and signage/merch (a standing banner, 1,000 postcards and 1,000 game keys.)

Other items include equipment rentals — I had padding for the floor (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED), electricity, monitors, computers, stands, etc. It all costs money unless you bring it, and it isn’t feasible for me to transport all those across the country (except the signage/merch, which I FedEx’ed over for about $100 CAD.) Add food, flights, hotels, etc, and things start piling up, to the final tune of about $6,750 USD — even worse considering I’m a Canadian (RIP leftover Bleed sales, shout outs to the exchange rate.)

I’ve heard of plenty of ways to cut costs. Stay in a hostel instead of a hotel, arrive the day of set-up and leave the day of tear-down, buy your equipment from local stores and return them after the show… I estimate I could have gotten expenses down to $5,000 USD if I really went nuts, but it was my first PAX and I wanted to make sure I had time to approach it correctly, as well as room to make mistakes.

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