Rethinking a door

As a game progresses we set new goals. A new one for next release is more time players play “Burnt Islands”. In current release 0.13 the longest time played is 33 minutes. Which is bad. We get feedbacks where people tell us that they don’t understand what to do. So in order to fix this, we are changing the “door” concept.

Burnt Islands door opens by destroying planksBurnt Islands door that consists of wooden planks and is closedThe door will now be placed on one of the walls (and not in the ceiling as it was before). The planks will have some space between them so that player sees what’s behind them. And, behind the door is a “spiral” tunnel that leads players out. The tunnel is “dug” procedurally and thus all the resources that player gets by digging in this region are lying in the tunnel and the player can pick them up. It is mostly oil barrels for now that are used as an energy fuel in order to fly.

Burnt Islands tunnel out with resources lying on the groundBurnt Islands tunnel spiral algorithm digging

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Second attempt at Steam Greenlight

steam attempt 2 burnt islandsAfter our first attempt at Steam Greenlight, where we were totally smashed within 5 minutes, we decided to work more on graphics and representation of the game. After that, we were wondering how much we gain by simply improving “Burnt Islands” Steam page. So, we took some more interesting screenshots with different explosions and graphic effects. We didn’t change description or video, although we made a new and more fancy logo.

With new screenshots and logo we’ve noticed also that people were bringing more time on our page then during the first attempt.

The new page was public for 25 minutes and got 37 new visitors. We’ve got 2 yes votes and 29 no votes this time. That gave us a ratio of 5/78. In order to get Greenlit we need an approximate rate of 60/40 which means that 60% of visitors should vote Yes. The results of changing a logo and the screenshots gave us thus 22% less no votes and 5% more yes votes. Much better!

All this shows that while it is important to have a “professional”-looking logo and cool screenshots, quality of video and description is the next step. Our video is somewhat boring and doesn’t exactly look good and description is at a minimum. So now we are going to work more on the quality of the content, make new cool video and continue improving graphics.

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Exploding oil barrels

You can now explode oil barrels with bombs and weapon. Some explosions from testing (a little bit slow as in debug mode).

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Our first 5 minutes on Steam Greenlight

steam burnt islandsWe’ve had our first experience with Steam Greenlight yesterday and the results are overwhelming – 23 No and 0 yes in just 5 minutes. With other words – we got totally down-voted in just 5 minutes!

Given a time frame we can guess that most people vote after just looking at games logo and watching the first seconds of the video and the screenshots.

It was kind of a shock to see the down-votes rate, but this is the best feedback you as a game developer can get. As a result we are changing our plans somewhat in the future. We need to work more on graphics and the presentation of the game…

Needless to say, we pulled the game from public view after those 5 minutes. It takes time to make a better presentation… and by this rate everyone on Steam would have voted no!

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Burnt Islands also in Russian

burnt islands russian language game

In our next release (0.13) that will come soon we are implementing support for Russian language. Partly because half of our studio are Russians and partly because we saw the following statistics from Steam:
steam language statistics
Language number two at Steam is Russian! We are planning on releasing an early version of Burnt Islands on Steam soon. The more players – the better! It took us just about 8 hours of work to implement Russian. Most of the time was spent on figuring out how CEGUI works with Cyrillic fonts. More technical details about it here.

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Some progress towards next release

As I wrote earlier, we’re working hard on eliminating fatal bugs (that is, bugs crashing the game, not bugs killing the player).

Access violation

We’re still not quite there, but the game is getting more and more playable (even though the current release is far more stable than the one in development).

The problem isn’t really solving the problems. The problem is finding a solution, which doesn’t includes hacks and a solution which is long lived and will prevent similar problems from arising. Still, some of the crash bugs are now pointing to cleanup of objects. That is, objects being deleted from the scene and when loading a game while playing a game.

We’ve also found some time in-between the crash bugs to get rid of some of the smaller bugs and implementing some features, like pushing F for opening storehouses and other inventory screens. This is work in progress, and it’s likely to change (and crash) in the future.

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Crash, crash & more crashes

I was supposed to be working on multiplayer and possibly a Mac release this month. However, we’ve gotten feedbacks the current release (0.12) is rather error prone and wants to crash all the time.

It passed our initial tests, that’s why we put it up as a release. But further development and testing unmasks a whole set of errors. We’ve identified some issues we believe is behind most of the crashes, and all of those are related to multithreading.

crash

While being a complex topic, we’ve been trying to keep it simple by enveloping parts of the game to different threads. Graphics and physics have each their own thread, terrain generation have their own thread and so on.

The problem lies between thread boundaries, namely when sending messages between threads.

Here we haven’t been diligent enough to offload the work when receiving a message to the “local thread”. The result have been that multiple threads have been trying to update the same sections of data simultaneously. Most of the time it’s fine, but sometimes, and specially on users computers, it seems to be an issue. Since we discovered those issues, fixing any crash-to-desktop problems have been my top priority.

It’s time consuming, and little or no features are added by me as I hunt down all crash bugs. But what’s a game full of features and content if it’s not playable…

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Why you need to release frequently

For the past months we’ve been trying to release Burnt Islands as frequent as we can, ideally every week. A “one week” goal is easy to set, but not so easy to maintain.

What good things frequent releases bring:
– You test your code much more often and thorough
– You can easily see how you’re progressing after each release, this to correct your future path
– You update your blog and any other sources for communication with your players more often. Then people don’t forget about you.
– You see bottlenecks in your game earlier.

Holes in terrain while digging

Holes in terrain while digging

But you need to be in control all the time. Our last release 0.12 is already taking a whole month. It is a release where we decided to improve graphics in the game. Graphics programming takes a lot of time here as none of us are experts with it. We learn every day. We try and fail every day. We were going to release 0.12 on Wednesday, but a whole bunch of came up in release test.

Triangles without texture in strange places

Triangles without texture in strange places

So, you know, you stand up on Wednesday morning and is planning to take it easy after a quick release, but is instead sitting and fixing bugs til Friday. On Friday we found out that our game is too slow. This bug was there for a while, but we never saw it really as a problem before.

But we are in release 12 and it is time to think that people might actually buy the game as it is available for pre-order already. And then not everybody have super fast computers as well.

That being said, we are going to make our best effort to make a release as soon as possible.

Our current bottleneck is graphics and too many triangles in the scene. It’s a really complex matter where we need to study some research papers in order to find a solution.

Keep in touch!

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Working with better graphics

As you maybe know we are working iterative on our game these days. It means that we develop things in iterations. Each iteration is one week long in ideal, but mostly take more time. After releasing build 10, we decided that it is time to improve graphics in the game. The most important part in a game is of course gameplay, but without good graphics people often don’t want to even try it.

Working with graphics takes a whole lot of time. You try different techniques here and there and see how it looks. You can never be sure that you are finished with the task. In 2012, when we worked with a basics for texturing a dynamic 3d terrain it took us several months of work to get the terrain look somewhat good. It is difficult as you learn something all the time and dig and search and explore. After that we were so exhausted that now we take one little step at a time.

In build 12 we are working among other things with better textures.

Here is what we have achieved so far with plants and a start scene:

Burnt Islands start scene textures

Better stone and grass textures on islands

Better and more variable textures around plants

Better and more variable textures around plants

If you do have some input on better graphics for us – please, contact us or just leave your feedback in a game!

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Monster pets preview

A preview video of monsters that can be made your pets. Just switch a board card from red to green and you have a friendly monster instead of an enemy. When they are friendly they make dirt bombs for you and gather them in their “bomb gathers”. You can then pick the bombs up.

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