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Where's my game?

So all last year I was telling everyone Kairo would be done by the end of 2011 no matter what. That didn't happen and I'm still not done. In fact I've been ominously quiet to the point where people seem to be finally asking, "where the hell is my damn game?". Just to get the main question out of the way, the game is still in full development and is getting very close to the end of development. I can't give you a solid release date but it will be as soon as I can possibly manage.

The Struggle

I don't think I'll be shocking anyone if I declare that finishing a game is hard. The bigger the game the harder that is and Kairo is the biggest project I've ever worked on. My original idea for the game was nowhere near as big and ambitious as it's become, but like most of my projects it's grown on its own in a very natural way. I feel like the game is very close to being what it was always meant to be, as vague as that may sound. I could certainly scale back the scope a little, trim pieces here and there and wrap it up sooner but I'm resisting that kind of drastic approach. I'm happy to remove excess and uninteresting content but I don't want to cut it short because it's the easier path.

Right now is a pretty tough period for me with the game. I keep telling both myself and everyone else it will be done soon yet there always seems to be more and more to get done. The daily development on the game largely feels like a real grind. I work on it anywhere from 5-7 days a week and typically work through late into the evenings. I don't say this for any kind of sympathy as my job and life are way more cushy than most people. Just want to emphasise that production hasn't stopped in my silence, I've just not felt like talking about it much.

Just Keep Going

I'm very grateful to every single person who's pre-ordered the game. Not so much because of the money, but because having people who've invested in the game has been the biggest motivator keeping me going. Left to my own devices it would probably have been very tempting to release Kairo as a smaller, lesser game and move onto something new and fresh. I feel like I owe you guys for the faith placed in me and don't want to disappoint. It's a lot to live up to and I guess I can't help but dread people might find Kairo a huge let down.

I hope people won't take this post as some kind of whining. I wouldn't trade this for anything, I spend my days living in comfort and working on something personal to me. I just figured I should be open and honest about where I am with the game and why it's taking time. I also hope this level of honesty might be of some help to those making their first games. There's a lot of amazing stuff coming out of the indie scene and at times it can look like everyone else produces great stuff with very little effort yet behind the scenes I think the vast majority find it just as much of a struggle.

So yeah… please bear with me.

A Bit of Fiction

The UK's indie game's event A Bit of Alright happened on Friday. It's a spiritual successor to the World of Love events, but seems to have improved on an already great track record. No longer just a day of stage talks this was a much more chaotic event and all the better for it. From recorder lessons, lemon jousting, and big screen Proteus it was a really fun day out. I've been to a lot of events with some focus on indie games and this has probably been my favourite so far. I do hope we see it again next year.

It's good to talk

I was rather glad to be a part of the programme and gave a brief talk on Interactive Fiction. Specifically I wanted to hilight that as developers we should always be looking to see what the best in our fields are doing and learn from them. When it comes to mixing story and gameplay the interactive fiction writers are doing the best and most experimental work and there's a lot to be learned from what they've accomplished.

For my talk I picked five pieces of interactive fiction I loved and then mercilessly spoiled them for my audience. Sadly this was the only way I could explain why each of them was so interesting. I'm sure eventually the videos from the event will go up and at that point you can see for yourself what I said about them. For now though I figured I'd link to each of them spoiler free so you've got some time to play them for yourself.

Listed in my personal order of preference, favourites first:

Slouching Towards Bedlam by Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto
Vespers by Jason Devlin
9:05 by Adam Cadre
The Baron by Victor Gijsbers
Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin

These should all have a play-online links from their individual pages, or you can download them and run them with an interpreter if you prefer. I thought about giving each game a basic description but if you've got the time it's really better to go into them cold and just discover what they are.

Ideas vs Implementation

At least twice during the day I ended up in conversations about how simple ideas can be taken in very different directions. I always feel like as developers we infuse anything with we do with our own style. A great example of this in interactive fiction is two games that are similar yet could not be more different. Both of these games are made with the limitation that you only have a single move and then the game ends.

Aisle by Sam Barlow takes the single move concept and explores it from a whole range of emotional angles. The game can play out in many different and contradicting ways, it can be a comedy or a tragedy, and it all comes down to a single decision by you.

Rematch by Andrew D. Pontious is probably the single most complicated and devious puzzle I've ever encountered. You have one move and then you die, all you have to do now is figure out the right move to live. Working out the solution not only requires repeated deaths, but even restarting the game to help you piece together all the systems going on. The final solution requires a long and elaborate command.

Going deeper underground

If my talk made you interested in delving even further into interactive fiction, then a good place to start looking for games to play is probably this list of the top 50 IF games of all time (2011 edition). It's been compiled by the IF community and is pretty good set of absolute classics that are worth spending a bit of time with.

A few people asked about making their own text adventures. I'm no expert on this as the few I've tried to code myself have never reached completion. I was involved in a collaborative project that got finished but I didn't do any of the actual coding. Most likely though you're going to want to be working with Inform. It comes in two flavours Inform 6 which is probably the most friendly to programmers, and Inform 7 which uses a natural language coding scheme.

Kairo World Tour 2011

The past few of months on Kairo have seemed like a bit of a whirlwind. The alpha build of the game was on showcase at the Develop conference in Brighton, the NotGamesFest in Cologne and PAX in Seattle. As I write this I'm preparing to fly out to LA for IndieCade which will hopefully be my last event of the year. It's been a real adventure, I've learned a lot about the demo process and a lot about how players interact with the game. Mostly though it's been incredibly exhausting.

I want to give special mention to NotGamesFest as it was a truly wonderful event. Each game was treated with a huge amount of respect beyond the typical booth space. The whole place was filed with a sense of atmosphere that really enhanced the games picked to be part of it. They even gathered all of us developers together for a private chat to share games we're working on and ideas we're struggling with. I hope I can attend next year even if I'm not exhibiting.

Develop, Brighton

Hindsight is 20/20

I have some background in marketing but I was always as the guy who produced materials that the sales guys took on the road so doing it myself was a huge eye opener. So I wanted to just talk through some of the lessons I've learned from the process as a one man developer that might be useful for other people who are going to go through this.

Everyone Plays Differently - Before Develop I decided I wanted to make the controls as simple as possible so added in gamepad support. To my surprise I found a big audience of people there were PC only gamer and were uncomfortable moving around with the pad. The setup at NotGamesFest on the other hand was mouse and keyboard and again I witnessed some people who were not used to that control scheme. The simple and obvious solution I should have gone for was to just give players the choice of both gamepad or mouse/keyboard. I did that at PAX and it worked great.

The More the Merrier - I did all three of these shows on my own which was tough for me. I'm a fairly social guy but three days of pitching my work wore me down. I know some people don't mind or even enjoy it, but for me I could have really done with some help. If I do similar events next year I'll be taking someone with me to split the load.

NotGamesFest, Cologne

Be Careful with the Code - The few days before NotGamesFest I made some huge changes to the game that really improved the exploration aspect of Kairo. I tested it as much as I could on my own but I missed something. It was now possible to fall off the world into nothingness in one of the rooms. Sadly over the few days a bunch of people ran into the problem. For PAX I fixed all the bugs I'd introduced but was super careful not to do anything so drastic so close to the event. Essentially I was incredibly stupid to make such drastic changes without enough time to properly test the game.

Be Over-prepared - I had a ton of different ways to put up signs for my games including a big popup banner, some normal posters, one designed to fit on the back of a monitor. I also had a ton of connectors and cables for all sorts of possible eventualities. I even took screen wipes. Over the course of three events I used pretty much everything. I tried to think through everything I might need, because if you take too much worse case scenario you have some extra spares sat in your suitcase.

PAX, Seattle

Proof in the Pudding

Ultimately this is all PR work which is bit of a distraction from finishing the game. And doing all this work has slowed down the development process, however sadly as a one man indie I've not got much choice. If I don't do all this no one will. However I am determined to hit my deadline of having the game finished by the end of the year, still a few months left. Doesn't seem like a lot of time.

Finally, I should probably mentioned I recently put out an Alpha 2 release of the game. My plan had been that Alpha 2 would include the next explorable area of the game. However all this show floor work has lead to me making tons of improvements to that first section of the game and it seemed unfair to withhold that from those of you who've already pre-ordered and new customers.

As I mentioned in my last blog post I’m taking Kairo to the Develop Indie Showcase and PAX Prime. These will be the first time Kairo has been playable at any kind of public event and this presented me with some problems. Kairo is designed to be a a solitary experience, as much as I love co-operative and quick action games that’s not what Kairo is about. It’s designed to be played patiently in the comfort of your home as you soak up the atmosphere. So I’ve had to do a bit of work to make the game a bit more show floor friendly.

Shiny Attraction

Step one is what old arcade games called an attract mode. This is when you leave a game running and it starts to play either a video or a chunk of gameplay. This was to draw you to come over to the game and encourage you to put your money in. Apart from the money bit this is just as true now as it was back then. Leaving the game on a static screen may look okay but it’s not going to entice people over to check the game out.

As I don’t really have a traditional title menu screen I’d not really planned on adding any kind of attract mode until now as I simply don’t need one for the final release version of the game. Though now I’ve made one I might include it as an extra in one of the menus for the curious.

For my attract mode I picked a handful of rooms from the game and have animated a camera doing a birds eye fly through of the room. It loops between those rooms and the animated intro sequence. It’s fairly simple but I think quite effective. As it’s all done in engine it does mean these sequences will be updated if I change the rooms over time and I can add in new rooms as the game gets closer to completion.

The Vertical Slice

The other problem with Kairo is that the opening few minutes are a little slow paced and very linear. This is intentional for the normal player experience, I wanted to give them a little bit of time getting accustomed to the world and the mechanics. However with people potentially only playing for 5 minutes I would imagine a lot of people would never get past that initial acclimatization process.

So what I’ve done is setup it up so once the game is switched into show floor made it starts players off in the first hub room. Dumping players straight down at the heart of the game for them to explore in whatever direction they choose. I also blocked the door that leads backwards towards the start of the game.

This demo build is rigged so it can quickly be reset back to the attract mode and wipes player progress when it does so the next person can start afresh. Also in this mode the quit button has been removed from the menus, so I don’t spend all day relaunching the game when people accidentally hit it.

Simple and Sweet

Finally I wanted the game to be really easy for someone to pick up and play instantly and while the keyboard and mouse control isn’t complicated just giving people a 360 pad seems even easier and more welcoming. On top of which I’d always wanted to add pad support eventually anyways.

I took the opportunity to basically rewrite most of my input code. So the game can now be played on the typical keyboard + mouse, mouse only or with a joypad. Incidentally getting my options screen to work with a pad proved to be the most tedious coding task I’ve had to endure since starting Kairo.

The other benefit to come out of this is I made sure to hook into Unity's Input Manager a lot better so players can now reconfigure all the controls before starting the game.

Ready To Launch

This all might seem a little boring and I guess some parts of development are like that. While doing it the most frustrating thing was knowing I was putting in a few days work that is mostly not contributing to the final game. However promoting the games at these show is important and means more people will get to try out Kairo.

I’m now away for the weekend at TIGJamUK5 to make games with awesome people, then next week I’ll be away in Brighton to demo the game. Then I will get back to actually working on more content. Busy times.

Kairo on the move

Kairo has been available for pre-order for a few weeks now and things have been going really well. We got an absolutely lovely write up by John Walker over at Rock Paper Shotgun which made me very happy as I'm a huge fan of the site.

I'm hugely grateful to all those of you who've pre-ordered so far and especially those of you who've taken the time to email me with your feedback. The nature of indie development is such that I can really take on board what people think about the game and fix up problems I would never have found myself.

July in Brighton

I've also recently been selected for the Indie Showcase at the Develop Conference in Brighton. I'm very excited about this as it's a chance to show the game to a ton of the UK's top developers and publishers and hopefully see what they think of the game.

The lovely folks at Haunted Temple Studios have also had their game Skulls of the Shogun picked for the showcase. Sadly they can't make it over to the UK for the event so I've agreed to run their demo booth as well. So it's gonna be a crazy two days at the conference.

August in Seattle

In return the Haunted Temple guys have offered to give me some of their booth space at PAX Prime. This is probably the most exciting development for me as PAX is a huge event I've always wanted to attend and now I finally have a really good reason to head out there.

Most importantly though is that approximately 70k gamers are gonna be there and hopefully I can coax more than a few of them into trying out Kairo for themselves. Getting the game in front of so many actual players is both a thrilling and daunting prospect so I can't wait to see how that all works out.

September in Beta... hopefully

Obviously on top of all this PR work I am still working on Kairo pretty much 7 days a week right now. I've been doing a huge push to flesh out missing content at the moment and I'll try and post a development update later this week. There's always so much to talk out but I forget to blog because I'm so busy working on the game.

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Welcome to the home of Locked Door Puzzle, the independent game development studio of Richard Perrin located in Bristol.

My primary focus is on creating expressive games that explore different forms of interactive storytelling.

For contact details check the about page.