Much Love at AVCon

It was wonderful to return to my home city of Adelaide to introduce gamers there to Forts during AVCon. After a bit of difficulty getting our passes we made our way to set up on Friday evening. Eventually I had a couple of power cords tested and tagged and then we hit the town for a bit of last minute shopping. I needed two cordless mice and a network cable for showing multiplayer. This time we had three machines: two laptops and a PC. After that Anna and I had dinner at the famous Yiros shop on Rundle Street.

Brad who organised the Indie Game Room did a stellar job. There must have been 50 odd games on show altogether. We were between the venerable and popular Armed with Wings and a new developer called Somewhat Interactive showing a meditative mobile game called Slidance, involving sliding squares around the screen. Across the way was Mighty Kingdom’s mobile game Boombot and Volnaiskra’s platformer Spryke – a fun but challenging game featuring a fish as the player character.

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My good friend from Ratbag days, Szymon, showed up in the morning to assist for the day. The morning started slowly but soon we had a steady stream of players checking out the game. I had spent some time crafting a new map to exhibit at shows. Previously we used a more-or-less symmetrical map with a combatitive AI. This showed players the core gameplay, but the learning curve was too steep, causing frustration.

This time I gave the AI a larger structure but fewer powerful weapons: several machineguns and one heavy mortar. This minimises enemy attacks and reduces the number of fires the player must put out, while still showing action and putting a time limit on the game. The player has a complete array of weapons to wield with a short gap to bridge in order to control two missile launchers. Of course most maps do not start like this but we want new players to experience an exciting introduction to the game.

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This new strategy turned out to work almost perfectly. I could show people how to select and fire a single weapon, how to group two similar weapons and how to repair damaged structure. This would keep them going for a while. If they really got into it I would show them how to extend the structure to control the missile launchers, which are more complicated to aim and fire. If players happen to suffer critical damage they could restart to give it another go.

One young man play the game for over 2 hours. I had to ask him to give other players a go – and he gracefully gave up his seat and then started teaching the new players. There were many youngsters of six years old and up who also gave it a good bash, showing that the usability improvements we have made since PAX Aus last year have paid off. D1DLC had me on camera for a short interview, and today Forts appeared on Brad’s top picks for AVCon.

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There were a few minor issues with the map. The first was the absence of tech buildings, so if any advanced weapons were lost they couldn’t be rebuilt. Another was that due to the fog of war feature, which hides the internals of the fort, it was not obvious where was best to target or what the AI was doing. I addressed these issues on Saturday night, making a mod to unlock all weapons, and turning off fog of war in the mission script. Sunday was busier than Saturday and the changes improved the experience. We managed to set up a few multiplayer games too, which are always fun to watch and coach.

One of the highlights for me was seeing Anna teach a more mature woman the ropes, and then see them defeat the enemy fort. The game appeals to a wide range of ages and both genders. Feedback was very positive and one gamer told Anna he loved the game even before he played it. We managed to collect about 60 email addresses for the mailing list, and gave out perhaps 100 cards.

All this is very encouraging. I’ve got a few more ideas on how to improve the introductory map, and a list of small changes that should reduce building frustration and make aiming easier. These smaller events are very useful for getting feedback and refining the user experience. Big thanks to Brad, Szymon, Anna and the AVCon organisers and volunteers for helping to put on a great show.

Screenshot Saturday

Playing around in with chain reactions and Single Player map ideas.

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Drill Instructor Demo

While digitally painting the Drill Instructor character, Nick recorded his art process, which you can watch below. Complete with commentary, Nick shows you the techniques he uses in creating the Forts art style.

Screenshot Saturday

Tim ‘Crackshot’ Auld has made some jammy shots in his time, but this one takes the biscuit! #241

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Rocket Chainsaw Article

During PAX, we had the pleasure of showing Joseph Rositano the ins and outs of Forts, and he’s done a bang up job of writing up his experience with the game on Rocket Chainsaw.

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PAX Aus 2015!

It’s been two weeks since PAX Aus ended. We’ve taken stock of what happened and what we accomplished. While it was not the first time we had publicly shown off Forts (that honour goes to our local GameOn exhibition), it was certainly the biggest yet. There were a lot more people coming past and press booking interviews. With the exhibitors fee, flights, accommodation, and a fair bit of preparation needed, the stakes were pretty high. Would people ‘get’ the game? Was it stable enough? Were people able to learn the controls? Do we have a chance of getting some good press? Let’s find out, dear reader.

We managed to get all of our equipment to Melbourne without damage and did most of our set up on the Wednesday, giving us time to troubleshoot anything before the expo started on Friday. We only had two playable terminals and one small TV to loop the teaser trailer plus another video that Nick had made to show the features of the game. I had built a mini ‘fort’ to hold our monitor. The idea was to get it above the crowd so people could see it from a distance. I even drilled bullet holes and stenciled burn marks radiating out from them. We had 1000 Forts contact cards and some candy for people to take. Thursday was spent tracking around Melbourne getting a few missing items such as a suitable ethernet cable for multiplayer games, head phones, gaffer tape, an adapter, screen wipes, insoles (a great feet-saving idea), and Strepsils (thanks for the tip Kamina!). We even had matching Forts t-shirts and the sign that Nick designed looked brilliant.

Nick and Tim in front of the Forts stand at PAX Aus 2015
Artist Nick Smith and coder Tim Auld with the Forts stand at PAX Aus 2015.

The press were there an hour earlier than the general public were let in on Friday. We managed to get ready to show the game in time, but it was not a mad rush to begin with. At about 9am the crowds started trickling through and Forts started to get some attention. The punters were getting into it, it was great! We had planned to run a ‘tallest fort’ competition on a special mini-game map, but too much fun was being had blowing stuff up so we dropped the idea.  Many were signing up to our mailing list anyway.

On the first day I counted six people who came up and said that Forts reminds them of a pencil and paper ‘game’ they used to play when they were young. One dad even said he still plays it with his son. The way it goes is each player draws up a fort on each side of the paper, puts in little weapon emplacements, and then takes it in turns to draw dashed lines, showing where the projectiles were being fired. Yes, it relies heavily on imagination. It’s so unfortunate that none of the original battles I drew from my childhood have survived. I was happy to see the game evoking nostalgia in so many.

Cosplaying monk playing Forts
Monks are one of our target demographics.

Quickly it was discovered that the game as presented was too hard for new players, so I made a few changes at the end of the day to improve the situation. The swarming missiles’ incendiary capability was disabled. The fire was made to spread at half the rate and do half the damage. The repair area radius was doubled. Some of the AI’s forts were crippled a little bit too, as they would just pepper the new player, making it difficult to coach. In spite of the learning curve, the PAX goers were excited about the game and many wanted to know when it was coming out. We ended up giving away about 750 of our cards.

During a lull I suggested to Nick we have a multiplayer battle against each other to show how the game plays out at high skill levels. Soon there was a gathering around us watching the game. It was a fun match and two of the spectators wanted to play each other afterwards, even though they hadn’t played it before. Nick and I coached our respective fort commanders; it was very tense! Nick’s player was victorious with a tried and true laser attack, our fort having insufficient armor to take the blow. We would have loved to see more of these head-to-head games, but one or both terminals were almost always in use, making it difficult for friends to claim them both at the same time.

Cosplayer asking about Forts.
Deadpool is one of the biggest (and tallest) Forts fans.

Saturday was supposed to be the biggest day. It probably was a bit more busy but it was hard to notice. You have to remember to eat and drink. The insoles and Strepsils were serving us well as being on your feet talking all day takes its toll. We were having a steady stream of media come and ask us about the game with varying degrees of preparedness. It was always fun, as they asked some of the best questions. It’s been thrilling to see us top a few ‘best indie game at show’ lists.

Crippling the AI fort by taking out their big weapon proved to be counter productive. It meant the player could be coached without the threat of being wiped out instantly, but when left alone the player would just continue indefinitely, preventing others from trying. I had to reintroduce the cannon to one of the maps to give the battle a timely end.

Cosplayer trying out Forts.
Gauntlets are not recommended when playing Forts.

By Sunday we had our pitch and coaching routines down pat. People seemed to learn it faster and have more fun. The AI was still making it difficult. More effort will have to go into making a good show map and configure the AI to give players a chance to learn without leaving it open ended. We were enjoying ourselves, and some people were coming back two or three times. A few were turning up saying a friend had recommended they check out our game. It felt great to hear that.

After a hectic weekend I got about half an hour to wander around and play a few of the other indie games in the PAX Rising area. I wish I had more time to do this; it was good to meet other developers and talk about their pride and joy, the issues they were facing, and try some cool games. The amount of support (moral and practical) shown between indie devs was wonderful, and I think everyone partly wished the event would never end for this, and other reasons. It’s definitely huge for a developer to have a face-to-face conversation with someone who instantly gets their game and wants to know more about it. Same goes for talking with other devs, and some of the conversations can be extremely useful. We received a few hot tips which may make a big difference.

It was such an awesome event. We’re grateful to the organisers, the attendees who gave our game a go, the other devs who gave us support and words of encouragement, and the press who have written, streamed or podcasted about the game. We’re happy that the game was solid and fun for you. Thanks for being patient with the difficulty – we’re working on it. Thanks also to Anna for making us (and Nart) healthy lunches and snacks every day.

I hope we see you at the next big show!

Screenshot Saturday

This week on : Laser vs Cannon – Direct energy beam vs High Explosives ballistic shell

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Geek.com Article

The fine people of Geek.com have compiled their list of the top ten most promising indie games they saw at PAX Aus, recently. Guess which game claimed top spot? 😀

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Grab It Magazine Article

It was great to chat to Nathanael Peacock from Grab It Magazine at PAX Australia. He’s written up a nice little article about his hands-on experience with Forts.

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