[GAME DEV] Touched by a robot – running afoul of reddit

In retrospect, that message probably shouldn’t have surprised and angered me so much.

At the time, though, I was furious. I hadn’t received any sort of warning. I just logged in for my usualReddit skimming and saw the note. Spamming? I didn’t consider myself a “spammer.” It must be some kind of mistake, I thought. Or maybe someone hacked my account and did something awful (although I found no obvious evidence of that in my Reddit history). I responded immediately, but tried to keep it civil.

The humbling and equally reasonable answer from redditor BeastIntentions:

I’m a latecomer to Reddit and really didn’t start immersing myself in it much until I took on the second full-time job of marketing Knee Deep for Prologue Games. It took about half a year of (it turns out) unwelcome behavior before The Virtual Man smacked me down. I didn’t think of myself as a spammer. Still don’t. I wondered if some troll with a personal grudge against me might’ve flagged me as a spammer. I held onto the hope that this couldn’t possibly be about *me* or how I participated in the community. I felt indignant. My civility wore thin. I wrote back:

No response to that one. But despite my assertion that I’d let it go, I couldn’t. My reporter’s curiosity wouldn’t relent. I pressed further:

A troll didn’t report me, I soon learned. No anonymous human plotted against me. Instead, I was downed by a cyberdrone in Reddit’s anti-spam arsenal and its algorithmic examination:

See, Reddit works best for people who *love* to start threads and comment on all kinds of topics. It is absolutely not a good place to just promote your own projects. They even warn you about that in their terms of service which, of course, I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to when I created my account.

And let’s take a snapshot of my most recent activity about the time my account got suspended for a few days, just to get context. What did the spambot see? This:

Of 14 links in that damning transcript of misdeeds, 13 are about Knee Deep – and they’re not even subtle, offhand plugs. They’re outright “Look at our indie game! Buy it!” blatant propaganda!

Reddit’s best practices post recommends no more than 10 percent of your activity on their site linking directly to your own content.

I’m no mathematician, but my snapshot showed it was obscenely higher than 10 percent. My iPhone calculator tells me it was actually less than 8 percent about anything other than Knee Deep. It’s no wonder I got shut down. I’m now more surprised it took so long for the system to flag me and swat me across the snout with a stern “Bad dev!”

And it’s not as if all that effort to enthusiastically promote the game on Reddit did much good. Even when I spent $20 for a few days with a sponsored link, we only got about 38 clickthroughs.

I feel like I learned at least a little from the disciplinary action. Here’s how my Reddit content activity looked in the aftermath of the three-day suspension:

This time, of 13 posted links, only two are explicitly about Knee Deep. It definitely comes across as less “My project! My project!” and keeps me off the spambot’s radar. That doesn’t mean I’m not still running into trouble with redditors, though. One of my favorite subreddits is FloridaMan. I used to post whatever weird Sunshine State news I could find. Not anymore. Tired of actions like this:

I’d much rather be touched by a robot.

[DEV INTERVIEW] Miku RPG’s Marta Vicario

Marta Vicario and Matt Bailey are partners in DragonEggGames, developing an indie 2D pixel art game called Miku RPG. The player inhabits the role of Hatsune Miku, lost in a digital world, exploring themes of humanity. Vicario was kind enough to share some of her experiences working on the new project.

Q: What inspired the art style of Miku RPG?
The style of the pixel art is inspired mostly by Secret of Mana, which is a game I find absolutely gorgeous.

Q: How did the project start?
The game was started by Matt Bailey a couple of years ago, as a fun little thing to do while studying for his A-Levels. I met him at uni, and was immediately enchanted by his enthusiasm for it. I joined the project shortly after meeting him and, a couple of months later, we decided to take it to the next level, a decision which resulted into Matt rewriting pretty much all of the code he had done before, and me redoing all of his pixel art except for the main character which I believe he did a marvellous job at.

Q: What games inspire your design approach?
Don’t Starve is a big inspiration for me. It reminds me how you can take a simple concept and turn it into something so alive and full of adventure and feeling. Also, very, very addictive.

Q: What’s your guilty gaming pleasure?
I wouldn’t say I have a guilty gaming pleasure as such. I’m probably more addicted to Harvest Moon than I should be, but fortunately for me, I keep my nintendo in Spain (I live in England) and only get to use it when I’m on holidays, so I don’t have the constant temptation next to me all the time. Trust me, I would never get any pixel art done otherwise.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working on games?
I really enjoy doing sport in my free time. When I’m in Spain, I spend a lot of time at the beach or in the sunshine in general, so I enjoy sports like slacklining, rollerblading and swimming. When I’m in England, my choices are more limited by the weather, but I enjoy running and have recently gotten into yoga. I also enjoy crocheting in my free time.

Q: What tools are you using to make Miku RPG?
A: For my pixel art, I use Gimp. I also use the good old pen and paper tool for planning out things and quick pieces of concept art. For the programming side… well, Matt is kind of building his own engine from scratch so he doesn’t really use any “tools” as such. But he uses C++ and OpenGL if that counts as a tool.

Q: What platforms are you developing the game for?
The game is currently being developed on Mac, but it will also be available for Windows and Linux.

Q: When do you plan to release Miku RPG?
At the minute we are hoping for a late 2017 release. That’s a long time away so it’s not set in stone but I’m confident that we can do this. We are both trying our best.

Q: What methods are you using to market your project?
At the minute we are using Twitter and Instagram for gifs and screenshots, together with the occasional blog and youtube update. We are hoping to be able to attend a gaming conference at some point, but there’s still much to do before we are ready for that.

Q: The main character, Hatsune Miku, is a creation of Crypton Future Media. Are you connected with them?
A: We are not affiliated with Crypton Future Media (the company that owns Miku), however, the usage of this character is possible through a Creative Commons license. This enables us to use the character in a non-commercial manner which is one of the reasons we are planning on releasing this game for free.

Q: Is indie game design your full-time job?
Indie development is not our full-time job (yet). We are both at uni, so we have stages of being able to work on our game a lot (no exams) and hardly being able to work on our game at all (exams). We’ve also just started our year in industry, so we are working full-time as electronic engineers for a year before going back to uni. Fortunately there are no exams this year, but it’s still turning out to be harder than we thought. Weekends are always a great source of time, or at least they are when you don’t have all of your friends and family visit from Spain at the same time. I find that taking at least half an hour to myself every day and making sure I’m going to bed early really helps me stay balanced and motivated. So many game developers brag about how they stay up until so late! I personally much prefer getting an early night and getting up bright and early to get some game dev done before work. Burning myself out usually results in loss of motivation, so I feel like taking care of myself actually helps me achieve more faster.

[DEV INTERVIEW] King Under the Mountain’s Ross Turner

Ross Turner is a software development consultant working on an indie fantasy game called King under the Mountain. He took some time to answer questions about the project, which he expects to release sometime in 2018.

Q: How did Rocket Jump Technology get started? How large (or small) is your dev team?

A: Not as a game developer, but as a private limited company for myself to work as a contractor/consultant in software development – which I’m still doing while developing the game as a hobby project. As with a lot of indie developers, the dream is to doing game dev full time, on my own projects on my own terms. The dev team is technically just myself with freelancers helping out on the more creative side of development – artwork, sound and music.

Q: What role(s) do you play on the dev team?

A: I’m the game designer and programmer, or you could say I’m the project lead. My time is split between game design, engine/code design and implementation, project management of the freelancers, and the all-important marketing.

Q: On its surface, King under the Mountain seems to offer the familiar trope of humans, orcs, and dwarves. What sets it apart?

A: Good question! I think a degree of familiarity with the generic tropes helps a player ease into the world – too many fantasy writers fall into the trap of naming things something weird and wonderful – call an axe an axe, not a b’tach! Having said that, there’s a blend of interesting ideas and lore in the world of King under the Mountain, often inspired from other fantasy settings – humans are not “the average all-rounder race” but in comparison are ruthlessly capitalist and more difficult to play than what are effectively socialist dwarves. Orcs don’t breed but instead grow quickly from spores similar to the WarhammerFantasy setting, and part of the challenge in playing orcs is that they want to (and often do) end up killing each other! Also I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic concept artist on board (Anthony Avon) who’s extremely dedicated to making sure that his dwarves, orcs and humans stand out from the fantasy norm.

Q: What’s the elevator pitch for King Under the Mountain? You know: the line in the design doc to answer the question “Why should this game exist?”

A: It’s the deep simulation-based gameplay of Dwarf Fortress mixed with the approachable visuals and style of Prison Architect, spiced up with touches of The Settlers, Dungeon Keeper and a few of my own unique additions. Also, my biggest problem with this kind of game tends to be that you build this impressive creation of a city/dungeon/fortress only for it to sit languishing on your hard drive for no-one to see. In King under the Mountain, you’ll also lead teams of adventurers (made up of the best and brightest of your settlers) to explore and loot the creations of other players, playing out in turn-based tactical battles like XCOM or Fire Emblem.

Q: When is the game expected to release? And on which platforms?

A: The current plan is to launch a Kickstarter in March 2017, which if successful will follow through to a beta/early access release in March 2018. That sounds like a long time from now, but I believe it’s achievable and realistic, whereas too many kickstarted games promise a launch window relatively soon that ends up being delayed by a year or two.

Q: What tools are you using to make King Under the Mountain?

A: It’s written in Java using the LibGDX cross-platform framework, so technically it’s my own engine. LibGDX does a lot of great things, including automated packaging of sprite sheets. The artists are using Photoshop and Flash due to the vector graphic look, and I use GIMP for bits and pieces of graphic work. I’m also writing my own tools for more specific stuff, like the character asset viewer you can see in some of my recent tweets and dev blogs.

Q: How are you marketing the game?

A: Currently, Twitter and Reddit (r/gamedev) are garnering the biggest interest. At this early stage in the game, I’m mostly posting development blogs and updates to the game’s website, IndieDB, TIG Sourceand the like. Unfortunately, that means I’m really only visible to other game devs rather than my actual market of game players. I’m currently working on getting a professional logo produced and some early gameplay videos, to let me take the game to Steam Greenlight and the wider gaming community. As with most small indie devs, marketing is not only the most difficult part but also the most important!

Q: Is this your only gig or are you developing the game in your spare time while working a day job?

A: The game dev is in my spare time while working as a business software developer, in-between the normal demands of social life, family life and looking after my dog.

Finding the time around a full time job, family life and some semblance of a social life is definitely the most difficult part. My routine is to get up early enough to work on the game for an hour or so, go to work for the day and fit a little in during my lunchtime too. It’s quite the drain that I’m sure I can’t keep up indefinitely, so all my effort is to work towards the goal of raising enough funding to let me work full time on it.

My dog, Charlie, is a cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles and Poodle cross). Although he’s quite lazy we have to find the time to take him for a walk in the daily schedule too! He’s far more popular online than I am – he currently has over 1200 followers on his instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/charlie_cavapoo/

When you compare it to the 100 followers I currently have on Twitter, I should get him to do my online marketing instead! 🙂

Q: What do you want players to take away from their experience with King Under the Mountain?

A: I would love it if those players’ experiences are passed on as in-game stories borne out of the simulation of the game world. The most famous example is the story of “Boatmurdered” from Dwarf Fortress, if I can inspire something similar, I’ll have achieved what I set out to do. I’d also be very happy just for people to have spent as much time enjoying the game as I have making it!

Q: What are your passions when you’re not working on this game?

A: If not this game, gaming in general is my one true passion. I think games where you create rather than destroy are under-represented in the medium, I’m a big fan of Kerbal Space Program and Factorio, where you’re given a bit of a sandbox and you, the player, create things to play with it. That’s one of the pillars of design for King under the Mountain and if I’m lucky enough to make more games after this one, will feature heavily in those too.

Q: Pick one game that really inspires you from a design perspective and explain why.

A: Every iteration of the Civilization series comes to mind – each gameplay element feeds into the larger whole to become this great interlocking set of cogs and gears where no element ends up living in isolation from the rest. This inspires me to ensure every system I design for King under the Mountain feeds back into the others – even something as superficial as the lighting system can feed back into line of sight for characters, growth of plants and mechanics around nocturnal (or underground-dwelling) creatures. I’m also a big believer in Sid Meier’s quote of “A game is a series of interesting choices,” which drives a lot of my game design.

Q: What do you try to avoid in the design or production process?

A: For possibly all game development, and this project specifically, scope creep is the biggest killer to look out for. It’s seductive to keep adding features on top of features which may end up having little impact on the gameplay or player. I’ve given myself a set roadmap to build a minimum vertical slice of the game then build from there. It’s the kind of game which should allow for adding features over time so I hope to get the feedback of the community for what they’d like to see included the most.

I’d also mention that I believe Kickstarter to be much more difficult to “break out” on than the gold rush of a few years ago, where it seemed that all you needed was some impressive concept art and a good pitch to succeed on the platform. For that reason my main goal is to attempt to build up more of a following and have something actually playable before taking it to Kickstarter, the goal of which will be to bring in more creative types for content and allow me to dedicate myself to the project full-time (which will greatly speed up the rate of development!)

Q: Any advice for others who want to become indie developers?

A: Everyone has idea of what they think will be the greatest game ever – you have to find a reason to stay dedicated and finish something through to completion. For me, this game is my dream project and I’m having a lot of fun with it which helps me stay on track. The other side of it is you have to love what you do – if you don’t enjoy programming or art then it’s probably not for you. If you can get past that then go for it, there’s never been a better or easier time to develop games as an indie, the only thing holding you back is yourself.