Insights into indie game development

I bought “Gremlins Inc.” in early access and only barely noticed its official launch. Even if I hadn’t noticed it, though, the amount of search hits for “Gremlins Inc. review” would have likely tipped me off. :p I did write a “first impressions” piece and for several days, this blog post was getting quite a lot more hits than usual.

But even if you don’t like this game (digital board games aren’t for everyone), if you’re interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of indie game development, this company’s posts are quite interesting! So Gremlins Inc. is made by Charlie Oscar, an indie developer located in Vilnius, Lithuania. What has impressed me a lot so far, other than the game itself (or I wouldn’t have bothered linking to it, obviously :p), is the amount of “behind the scenes” information they have given us.

Gremlins Inc.

For one, I thought it was cute – and understandable, but mostly cute – how they celebrated every milestone in copies sold. In fact, I had seen one of those posts right when I was wondering whether to get the game or not. It made the company look honest and sincere with their customers. It is also refreshing to see that they celebrated those “tiny” milestones when other big companies boast about their “1 million copies sold”. Yes, of course, I would wish for them to sell a lot of copies! Still, there are small companies out there and they are happy about every single sale they make.

A few days ago, I saw them tweet about their game’s localization efforts and found this a very interesting read! Not only for me as their customer, but maybe also for others who are interested in making games and for whom such insights are valuable pieces of information. It wasn’t very surprising to see them come to the conclusion that German and French localizations are a must have, basically. I am German, I know how bad the English of lots of other Germans is. :p But the sheer amount of languages they offer their game in is astonishing and their thoughts and the impact those localizations had is fascinating. They also describe the process of how they worked with translators in different regions.

Today, they added another post about sales and early access. I am not a game designer, but I still found it interesting to get a glimpse into that part of gaming. In short, they come to the conclusion – which fits to what others have already said apparently – that Steam’s Early Access does not fund a game, but it at least gives them some additional money they wouldn’t have otherwise and it lets them create a community already. From my point of view, I would agree. A lot of people are careful about Early Access games – or Kickstarter and the like – because you just don’t have a guarantee that the game will be finished any time soon or ever. I have bought several games in early access now, but I always asked myself first: “Will I have fun playing the game in its current state?” – Only if the answer is “yes”, I buy the game. And I know lots of other people just don’t enjoy a game that still changes or that comes with lots of bugs etc. So those very likely won’t buy such a game.

But back to this post: They also share some insight into costs related to the manpower, rent for the office etc. and that somebody needs to actually run the business or hire and work with lawyers on top of everybody trying to make the game.

So far, they have not turned a profit on the game, but it only released one month ago (on March 11, so yes, exactly one month ago) and I hope they will make quite a few more sales. I know I will buy the original soundtrack when it comes out, because I just love game soundtracks. Not sure about DLCs, though. I am much more picky when it comes to DLCs and their “worth” (thinking of the Tropico ones mostly here). But we’ll see… maybe, if they’re good.

Wildstar’s Jumpstart Pack – Is it worth the price?

I only just wrote about Wildstar’s housing and wondered whether you could get the housing teleporter and now they added it to their store for the cost of 720 NCoins. I assume that once the game launches on Steam, it will appear as DLC in their store as well. 800 NCoins cost 10 €, so this is 9 €. Granted, it’s more expensive than it was back when we bought it as part of a Humble Bundle. But that’s the whole point of the Humble Bundle, right? To attract people to buy stuff and then maybe add a bit of money on top.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a closer look at what the Jumpstart Pack offers, in case you are wondering whether it’s worth your money.

The Jumpstart Pack includes several items. Some are multi-claim and some can only be claimed with one character. Multi-claim means that every character – present and future ones – can claim the item as often as they would like. So don’t worry about accidentally deleting that item, you can get it again at any time.

  • 16-slot Bag (Bag of Big Beginnings)
  • Housewarming Gift Pack
  • Blue Steel Hoverboard and Flair
  • Flask of Advancement (XP boost for 3 hours)
  • Early housing plot access (Protostar Housing Teleportation Unit)
  • Shardspire Canyon Housing FABkit
  • 5 gold

You can probably already guess that those 5 gold cannot be claimed by every character as often as you want! So, this is a one-time claim. The same goes for the bag, the Housewarming Gift Pack and the Flask of Advancement (not pictured).

This means that the Protostar Housing Teleportation Unit, the blue hoverboard and flair and the Shardspire Canyon FABkit can be multi-claimed.

Let’s get into more detail on what it is you would be getting: One character gets 5 gold. One character gets a 16-slot bag. Just to be clear here: All items can be claimed independently, so the 5 gold and the bag do not have to be claimed by the same character. Also, my main character has 14-slot bags equipped. I did not try to get bigger ones and I don’t remember where I bought the 14-slot ones or how much they cost me. But this means that if you are just starting out, a 16-slot bag is very nice to have, even if it is just with one character. The XP boost is a nice to have, but it is not really necessary. I found I levelled fast enough in this game. However, some people want to level faster and for them, it’s definitely nice!

Now for the last of the single-claim items, the Housewarming Gift Pack. This actually contains three separate containers: Extra Exteriors Pack, Interior Visions Pack and Let There Be Lights Pack. You can see a list of the items when you click on the links. In short, the lights pack gives you lights like the rustic gas lamp post or string lights. You can see them all in the gallery below.

I am not sure about the value of these items. Some can be bought from the vendor directly for a few silver. Some others, like the unburnt toast or the taco, I haven’t seen before. I assume none of these are really exclusive. But they are nice to give you a start in housing. I would definitely suggest getting a better couch, though. This one has definitely seen better days. :p

That’s it for the single-claim items. Now on to the multi-claim ones. Those are far more exciting anyway, if you ask me. The Blue Steel Hoverboard is a mount. “Flair” is something that can be attached to a mount to make it look a bit different. After claiming it, you will find it in your inventory. Right-click it again. Then open your Collectibles-window. This one isn’t bound to a hotkey, as far as I am aware. I usually click on the lower left button which opens a window with all possible other windows. A bit like the Start button of Windows, so to say. What you will see there then is your Hoverboard (Blue Steel) without flairs. But here you can also click on and choose any flairs you may have unlocked. Blue Steel Grill for the front, Blue Steel Tail for the rear and Blue Steel Wings for the side belong to this package.

Wildstar Blue Steel Hoverboard with Flair

In order to start with housing and access your character’s housing plot, said character usually needs to be level 14. The Protostar Teleportation Unit allows you to click on it as soon as you are level 3 and you will get access to your house then. This is very neat, especially for alts, but also for those of you who just started playing and can’t wait to begin building!

Last but not least, there is the Shardspire Canyon which can be placed on your housing plot. It also offers you a challenge which is like a time-gated jumping puzzle. I haven’t managed to do it yet, though. But it looks really nice! It is apparently a world drop usually, so getting it in this package is a lot more reliable. Or maybe on the auction house instead. I did not check its availability or price there!

Wildstar Shardspire Canyon and Hoverboard (Blue Steel)

So the question that remains is: Is it worth it? It highly depends on what you care for. If you’re not into housing at all and don’t even want that low-level teleport for your character, then it’s probably worth a lot less. For those not into housing, you would at least get a multi-claim hoverboard mount with flairs. Other multi-claim hoverboards cost 2080 NCoins. If you really love housing, then the teleport will be convenient, but only when your characters are below level 14. Other than that, the FABkit is nice. But I don’t think I would buy this bundle for the FABkit. There are so many in Wildstar and you can only place a certain amount of special things like FABkits anyway. The instant teleport was what I really wanted when I bought it from the Humble Bundle on top of getting another hoverboard. Yes, I have several already and no, I don’t care. One can never have too many hoverboards! Especially if it’s multi-claim.

In a nutshell: For me it mostly depends on whether you can wait and level your characters to level 14 in order to access housing and if you like that hoverboard mount. Because you cannot currently get a cheaper multi-claim hoverboard. The other items are all nice to have, nothing is a complete waste of money within this bundle, so to speak, but none of these items are a “must have” in my opinion either.

Before and after: My Tamer

If you know me, you are probably not surprised to hear that I spent most of my time creating my characters in Black Desert Online. I was a bit disappointed that the classes are mostly gender-locked and I still am disappointed, since it’s an MMO and not an RPG where a specific character comes with a specific story attached. Alas, complaining and whining doesn’t help and the game seems to be really great otherwise.

My bigger issue was with the tamer. I saw the character on the character creation screen and all I saw was this cute little Asian-looking girl. Awwww. Definitely not of age yet, but out there to conquer the world. The class itself seemed interesting, but while I like playing both male and female characters, I just cannot stand playing a character that looks like a little girl.

BDO Default Tamer

So, my first try was to randomly switch a few buttons around. The result was… well, not too good. But I had only wanted to give the class a try, after all. Then I deleted her again – and found out that character deletion takes 24 hours in Black Desert Online.

BDO_Tamer first choice

And tonight, I could finally get to maybe creating the final Tenddra. IF I managed to create one that looked a bit older. I don’t know how much time I spent in the character creation now, but I’ve got to say, I am more than just a little happy about the result!

BDO_New Tenddra_TamerAnd with that, I take back my previous statement. She doesn’t look like she could be my mother, but she certainly lost that “little girl” look. I have also become a fan of bright orange-y hair. I wonder if that has anything to do with the way I have been dyeing my hair lately… :p

Now I just hope I actually enjoy playing her or I’ll have to wait 24 hours again before I can create another character.

Housing in MMOs: Wildstar

The first parts of this series were posted a long time ago, but I recently stumbled over one of them again and figured I should add Wildstar to this list. If you are wondering what games have been covered here before: Lord of the Rings Online, AionRift and Everquest 2. For Aion, I got help from thevalliants and the post for Everquest 2 was written by Rakuno, as I did not play nearly enough to even start writing about the housing system in Everquest 2.

If I had to rate the housing, I would put Wildstar slightly below Rift with Rift being my number 1. I cannot properly rate Everquest 2, as I never played it enough to properly judge that system well enough. I think seeing how old the game is, though, and how I didn’t like being restricted in access to the auction house etc. without paying a monthly fee, I would still rate it lower than Rift and Wildstar, simply because I think getting items for my housing project (or the money to buy said items) is easier in those two games. The housing system of Lord of the Rings Online is dead last, by the way. Compared to all the other housing systems, it is nothing but a huge big disappointment for me and I’m not sure it should even be called “housing”.

But let’s get to today’s topic: Wildstar. This game actually does have more to offer than just raiding and if you’re into housing and like the graphics (always a very subjective topic), then Wildstar offers you a very robust and expansive system to play with! Since this is a free-to-play game, please note that whenever I say “you have to pay”, I mean in-game currency! Only when I say “you have to pay with real money” or “NCoins” do I refer to the actual real money. Also, in quite a lot of cases you can choose to buy something from the shop with NCoins or Omnibits. The latter is a currency you get from playing the game and it does not involve any real money. But since this post is not about the way the system works, I will not always go into depth about which currency you can use and how expensive it is.

Quick FAQ

Is there a minimum level required to get a house?
Yes. Your character gets access to their housing plot with level 14. There was a special “Humble Bundle” pack which gave you an item that lets you enter your housing plot as soon as you are level 3, but I’m not sure where else you can get that item. Either way, level 14 is relatively quick to achieve. With a free account, you get two character slots for free, so that is two housing plots.

Is there a fee/a recurring fee to keep the house?
Yes and no. Access to the housing plot is free! If this is all you care about, then that’s that (see below for the advantages you can get with your housing plot if that’s the case).

Cozy Chua House

If you want to have a house instead of the “construction plot” in the middle, then you need to pay a very very small amount or a bigger amount of gold/platinum depending on your preference and the size of your wallet. The beginner houses (Cozy XX House) are really cheap with 1 copper! My level 4 character has close to 6 silver, so as you can see, getting one single copper really is not difficult at all. On the other hand, those houses really are tiny.

The bigger houses (Spacious XX House) cost 3 platinum. Don’t worry about these, though. You can just get a small one when you get started and settle into housing. You can always switch to a bigger one later if you wish. All items you placed within the small house will be sent back to the crate (your character’s housing inventory), so nothing will be lost. You will have to start over with placing items within your house, though. Everything else outside of the house’s area will remain the same.

Is there an item limit? What about item placing?
Let me explain first how housing items work in Wildstar. When you get a housing item (called “decor” in Wildstar), it will be in your inventory. You then need to send the decor item to your crate. You do this by right-clicking on the item in your inventory. It will automatically get added to your crate after right-clicking! Only when it is in your crate, you place it in your housing plot. Your crate thus works as an inventory. On the positive side this means that your regular inventory will not get crowded with housing items. On the negative side, once within your crate, there is no way to retrieve it again (e.g., to give the item to one of your alts). You can only delete the item in your crate in order to get rid of it. So always choose carefully with rare items if you really want to use them with your current character or an alt!

And now about the limitation: You start with a limit of 2000 items for your crate. That is, you can store 2000 items in there. 1000 items can then be placed on the “exterior”, that is, on the housing plot in general. And another 1000 items can be placed inside of your house (e.g. the Cozy House or the Spacious House from above). There are other limitations like 40 lights in general. I assume that is to ensure performance is alright.

Wildstar Housing Crate

Furthermore, this limit can be increased. For 230 NCoins (or 115 Omnibits) you can buy an expansion that gives you 500 additional outside and 500 additional inside item capacity. This can be bought up to three times, so that you can ultimately have a maximum of 5000 items in your crate and up to 2500 placed inside your house as well as up to 2500 on the exterior. The good news is that the unlock is account-wide, so you would only have to buy those once.

Before I talk about item placement, let me elaborate on the housing plot (exterior) and the house (interior) itself. Items can be freely placed, rotated, changed in size and so on. This is pretty similar to Rift. You get arrows that you can click to adjust the item’s position. In direct comparison, I would say that Rift is a lot easier to handle, because one click moves the item only slightly and here in Wildstar, the changes are more extreme. I should really get used to entering numbers directly instead of clicking instead.

Can you expand the house?
As mentioned above, you can buy a bigger one. One downside of this kind of housing is that there are actually two instances. One is the plot in general with the landscape and then there is the interior of the house. You will get a loading screen when you enter the house, so there is no way to add a balcony, for example, and then walk into the house from there.

The housing plot itself, that is the exterior around your actual “house” cannot be expanded, unfortunately. I really wish it could be, though. Although it can be altered slightly in appearance by adding enhancement (FABkits and the like). More on that further down.

Are there any advantages when you own a house?
First of all, there is a free teleport to your house which you can use once every 20 minutes. This works nicely when you’re out adventuring in hostile areas and need to go afk for a few minutes. Teleport to your house, go afk, leave the housing plot when you get back and your character will be returned to where he/she was prior to teleporting. You will also get rested XP bonus by adding items to your house with the appropriate bonus attached to them.

And then there are challenges. Some FABkits or enhancements (more on those further down) come with challenges. Those are basically little timed mini games and if you win, then you get some points which add up and every time you cross a certain threshold, you can choose between rewards. As far as I know, these “reward tracks” are be repeatable. The challenges themselves definitely are!

What’s the maximum amount of houses per characters / per account?
One housing plot per character. You can “manually” build more houses on that plot if you like, as long as you don’t hit the item limit, of course. In general, you can have up to 14 characters per server (you need to buy those extra character slots with real money). So, that would be 14 housing plots. But please note that some FABkits have level restrictions, so if you want to build something with a level 20 character, you may not be able to put everything in there that you want.

I play on Dominion side, but I really want an Aurin house…
I bought a cross-faction house already, so that isn’t an issue. There are also specific race-themed decor items to buy, but they are not restricted to that race or their faction. So altogether, it should not matter which faction you belong to when it comes to decorating your housing plot.

Are there guild houses?
No. Only individual housing plots, unfortunately.

Are there any limitations unless you pay real money?
That depends on how you define “limitation” plus, as mentioned above, you can choose to pay with NCoins or Omnibits. Omnibits are the currency you get for simply playing the game, but you will not get lots of them in a short amount of time!

Anyway, as I mentioned above, there is an item limit which can be expanded by spending NCoins or Omnibits. If you are just starting out, I don’t think this limit will bother you. The bigger issue will surely be not having enough in-game currency (platinum, gold) to even buy everything that you want! Some decor items or customizations (like a specific sky) are from the shop. Altogether, it is more a “flavour” thing or a preference rather, but there is nothing that really limits you in using your housing plot. So far, I bought a higher item limit and a floor. Other than that, I did not buy anything to enjoy the housing.

The two screenshots above show one sky – Happy Land – which can be bought for a small fee of in-game currency. The other one, “Falling into the Sun” has to be bought with NCoins or Omnibits. The screenshot doesn’t do it justice, though. Its name is very fitting, as the sky is “moving” or rather, it really does look like your housing area is falling into that huge sun. I only took a quick screenshot, then cancelled the preview as I had begun to become motion sick. :p

What other features distinguish Wildstar’s housing from other games?
Now we have reached the part where I finally explain to you how the landscaping works in Wildstar. You get your housing plot with a construction site in the middle. The place in the middle is where your house will appear. The inside of the house is an instanced area, separate from the rest of your housing plot! The outside is split into 4 smaller plots and 2 bigger plots on which you can, but don’t have to, choose enhancements or use FABkits. With the switch to free to play, they also made the housing plots bigger, so on the outside, you have free space which cannot be filled with enhancements or FABkits, but which can be used to freely build more.

Inside of your house, you can choose the colouring and pattern of the floor, the walls, the roof. Same outside where you can change a few things about the outside of your house (like the entrance door) as well as the sky, the floor and the music that plays. In this regard, it is a bit similar to Lotro which let you switch between different wall paint colours etc. as well.

Additional information
Wildstar allows addons and with that, I highly suggest you get the Katia Builder Toolkit. Not only does it make placing, rotating etc. the items themselves easier. It also comes with a tool called “decor shopper”. It is a database of decor items in the game. So you can freely browse and preview items. If you see something you like, you will have to check for the items outside (there is a link to Jabbithole which gives you information on where that item is from and so on).

Katia Decor Shopper

The gallery below shows three screenshots of my restroom. So far, there is only the toilet in as well as a sink. I was wondering whether I should also build a bathtub. Then again, directly next to the house, I built some hot springs and I am not sure one would even need a bathtub or a shower with something like this around the corner.

And this gallery shows the inside of the house. The first image shows the main room being empty. I was playing around with possible wall and floor colourings. The second screenshot shows the design as it looks right now. I also added two extra floors which are basically empty (see fourth screenshot). I was a bit disappointed at first, because even the spacious house seemed small. It still does if you ask me, but adding those extra floors helped a lot! And if I need more room, I will just expand on the outside like I did with the restroom. Next thing would be a terrace to enjoy the sunset. The third screenshot shows the room on the left side which is basically a living-room with a huge bar. Perfect for a Granok! And the fourth screenshot shows the extra floors.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section. I will try my best to answer them.

Paeroka’s Ponderings: Splitting your game in two

Paeroka's Ponderings featured image for columnA few weeks ago, Daybreak Games announced H1Z1 being split into two games, H1Z1: Just Survive and H1Z1: King of the Hill. Is splitting your games in two about to become a trend now?

The first time I read it recently was with The Repopulation and Fragmented. But those two games are not the first that get this “treatment”. Landmark was originally just supposed to be a sandbox with tools for the community to create buildings and other things which could be transferred over to the MMORPG Everquest Next if they were done well enough. Over time, Landmark got more and more features that made it less of a “tool” and more of a game, like combat. H1Z1 and Landmark/Everquest belong to the same game company, Daybreak Games, so maybe that is where the H1Z1 developers got the idea from in the first place.

And then there is Godus and Godus Wars with Peter Molyneux saying that he had envisioned it to be two games from the beginning on.

Landmark Alpha in March 2014

Now they all mention more or less different reasons for doing those splits: Some say it was always imagined to be two different games, others say that one game will help with the development of the other game.

What I’m wondering is: Is it really a good idea to do it like that?

Unless they get more developers, development has to be split between those two games resulting in each game getting less attention per se. I get it for The Repopulation, because here Fragmented is supposed to be the basis for The Repopulation with the new engine (probably a bit like Landmark is to Everquest Next). And since they more or less did not have a choice than to move to a different engine, they need to find something which could give them some extra income in the meantime while also giving us, the backers, something to do as long as we are waiting for the new version to come out. With Godus and H1Z1, I’m not so sure. Is it really necessary to split? Are the playerbases – well, the H1z1 one, at least, so diverse and different in tastes that you need to make such a split? So, on the other hand, if that is the case, then it could also be a good idea to split your game, as that allows the developers to cater more to a specific kind of playerbase and they can focus more on specific features relevant to each game instead of trying to squash it all into one game and make it work.

The Repopulation
Near Freedomtown. The city you ended up in after the first tutorial zone.

If I’m being negative here, I would say they all just want to grab as much money as possible. However, this does not make sense for The Repopulation and Godus. In the case of The Repopulation, it seems to be more their way of trying to earn money while working on porting their MMO to the other engine. So yes, it is about making money, but not about making more money. That reason does not apply to Godus either, because if you buy Godus Wars, you do get Godus as well for free. In this case, I would go with them probably trying to get away from the vastly negative reviews that Godus had gotten and sort of “hiding” behind Godus Wars now, a new game which just happens to give you Godus as well. I haven’t given Godus Wars a good try yet – only logged in for a few minutes – so I will refrain from saying anything, bad or good, about the game, but the current state of the reviews does not look positive either. Everquest Next still seems to be so far away, that I would say Landmark is like Fragmented. Not a way to make more money, but a way to make any kind of money while development is ongoing.

This leaves H1Z1… The Massively post quotes them saying it was something the community had wanted them to do. However, both games are “buy to play”, so there is more money, as you would have to buy both if you want to play both. I hope that it was not done just to get more money for those two games, but also because they want to give the playerbases games tailored to their needs.

At the end of it all, the big question is probably: Is it for the best each of these games? And can the developers adequately support both game modes to please the community? If that is the case, then it is a smart choice to split your game in two.

I regularly have rants and ramblings in my mind, but never really know if I should post them, so “Paeroka’s Ponderings” is where I will try to give these rants a place.