woensdag 27 juli 2011

The zombies are coming..


Time for another blogpost today. First of all I want to bring some good news.. Our zombie shooter is nearing completion, it is almost done! Last week we did some playtesting to find and fix bugs and glitches. But we actually couldn't stop playing the game itself! Stay tuned, the trailer is coming soon ;)

Screenshot Zombie Shooter

The playtesting, or QA (Quality Assurance), is very important. A game, when released, should work. And not just be filled with bugs. During this process bugs are found and listed to be fixed after the QA session. If someone encounters a bug while testing. He or she creates a so called 'QA Ticket'. The bug or glitch is explained in the description of the ticket and also the steps to reproduce the bug are written down. This in particulary is important, because the programmer who's going to fix the bug can reproduce it for debugging. Imagine something very simple like this:

Problem: The sound isn't muted when pressing 'Mute Sound' in the options menu.

Procedure: 1. Start the game 2. Go to the 'Options' screen 3. Clik the 'Mute Sound' button.

This is a straight forward bug, and probably not so hard to find and fix. Bugs that occour during gameplay are much thougher to reproduce. Sometimes the player needs to be at a specific location within the game world. If so, we add a screenshot to the 'QA Ticket'. So the programmer can go to that location in-game, and follow the steps to reproduce the bug. Instead of starting a process of 'Trial and error' just to reproduce the bug in the first place.

The next step is to fix the bugs ofcourse. First the blocker ones, the bugs that cause game freeze's or prevent the player from making progress. What I mean by 'Making process'; A gate for example that should open after some actions, and it doesn't. The player is then not able to walk through it towards the end of the level, and thus not able to finish the level. Then the other critical bugs are fixed. Such as sound/music bugs, graphic issues, getting behind the boundaries of a game level where the player shouldn't be etc.

If the blocker and critical bugs are fixed, a new QA session is behing held. The QA process starts again until the game is ready for release.

Happy QA'ing ;)!


vrijdag 15 juli 2011

Tell me who you are

Hello developers/fans/people who accidentally landed on this site,

Today we have tested one of our new games, which is (surprisingly) a super secret game.
Of course this is a very interesting process. If you like to read more about test days, you can read about it in an earlier post of Stijn.
But unfortunately for this project there's not much to tell, because the game is such a big secret.
Instead of boring you by telling how great this game is going to be and that you can play it really soon, I like to tell you about something else: target audiences.

Target audiences? Why?
As you may already know, at Xform we like to make games that we ourselves love to play. But that doesn’t mean we don’t listen to our player base. We just want to know who they are, where they are from and why they especially like to play our games.

Target audiences are very important. For every product. For every game. Whether you are creating console games, mobile games or browser based games, you need to know what kind of people (are going to) play your games.
Are they kids or adults? Male or female? At what age? When do they play games and how much time do they spend on it? Do they play alone or with friends?

Knowing who they are and what they like is very valuable information when making a game. It’s most common to use this information for marketing and promotional activities, but you can also use it for game design.
This doesn’t mean you should base the entire game production on target audience facts. After all game development is a creative process and it is fun to surprise your audience with things they don’t expect. But, for example, if you know that your type of game is mostly being played by people that do not spend more than half an hour per day on gaming, then it doesn’t make sense to create levels with loads of side quests and fights that will take at least two hours to finish. Although this may seem quite obvious, there are just too many games that don’t match with their target audience.
You can also use your target audience analyses to treat your audience on extras like special enemies or funny easter eggs. They will appreciate it!

How to define my target audience?
To define your target audience you have to do research. And of course there are millions of options to start with this.
If you have a lot of money you can spend it on an exclusive research institute that will do all the work for you. Or you can hire some specialists and start a research department at your own office. Unfortunately, at Xform we don’t have this opportunity yet. We have to do the research by ourselves, which is actually very interesting.

My advice for starting with your research is to keep it small and simple. Stay close to your company and take advantage of all the information about game target audiences that already exists. Believe me, you can spend hours on reading books and web articles about this. Now it’s your task to find out which information is valuable for your game.

If this is the first game you’re working on you might start to take a closer look at similar games from the same type of platform. What kind of people play this games? They might want to play your game too.
When you already developed some games you can also do research on these games. Find out what’s the target audience from your previous games. Internet offers you some interesting tools that might be useful for this. Every social media site has an option to track down user data and information from your fans.

We also started to use Google Analytics for our Xform website to see who are interested in our company and games. So now we can see how many and for how long people visit our site, if they were looking for something in particular or that they just
accidentally stumbled upon it.
A lot of information might surprise you. I didn’t know most of the visitors on our homepage are from Brazil:

visits on the Xform website (last two weeks)

Have a nice weekend!

- Shirley

woensdag 13 juli 2011

Replay fun

Dear readers,

I've been working on another car game and last friday afternoon after doing some boring stuff I felt like doing something fun and that could be done quickly: a replay function. None of our games currently have this, but for the game I'm doing now I think it would really add something.

Before we can replay anything of course we need to record. The first thing that comes to mind is to simply store our key input and on replay the stored key input is used as input for the car. But as we're using a physics engine which I don't trust to be deterministic (the same input results in the same output) it would lead to a different replay which of course is not what we want.

Another approach which is easy and sure to work is to store the transforms of the car each frame in a list and when on replay simply go through the list and setting the car model to the stored transform. This is what I currently do and it works well. But let's analyze it. We're running at 30 frames per second and thus storing 30 transforms per second. For each minute of replay we store 30 * 60 = 1800 transforms. Assuming each transform is stored as a 4x4 matrix of floats, so 16 floats at 4 bytes per float: 64 bytes per matrix. And so for each minute of replay 1800 * 64 = 115200 bytes. Considering today's RAM capacity in computers this is peanuts. But this of course is only for a single car and additional actions have not been recorded (for example car damage, firing of weapons, etc). One way to reduce the size of the replay list would be to store the transform every X frames and interpolate between transforms, although you do lose accuracy with this approach. Another way is to only store transforms when they've changed 'enough' with respect to the previously stored transform. In this way a car that does not move would not cause the replay list to increase in size.

With a replay you can think of simply watching what you (or someone else) did. Currently I implemented it as a replay while you're playing: like a ghost rider (See image below). In this way you get the feeling you are competing which in my opinion adds to the fun and I hope the option will be there when we release the game.

Image from 'BMX Ghost'. A ghost rider is shown displaying the best round you previously played.

-- Stijn

New prototype

Hi all,

A few weeks back Stijn started programming a new game prototype which is basically a downhill ski-game with a special Xform twist. Last Monday I was put on the project to create a track and some (temporary) graphics for this prototype. The game just needs to look and play good enough to get a good impression of what the final product could be, therefore I won't put a lot of time in designing and fine-tuning the track. I'll keep you guys updated on this project when (and if) it goes into full-development.

Cheers, Matt

dinsdag 5 juli 2011

New Game Sneak Preview

When you don't have anything to write about you can always post a super secret screen of an upcoming game!