This past weekend, as Martin wrote last week, a bunch of Ruffians headed over to a great pub called Sloanes to show Fragmental off at GlesGames which is a bi-monthly event arranged for fans of multiplayer gaming in Glasgow. It was my first time demo’ing Fragmental in public and we were expecting in the region of 50-100 people to come and play, have a laugh and give us some feedback on the game. It had been a while since the team last put it in the hands of the public and we wanted to know if we’d done the right things in the eyes of players… But hold this thought because I’m about to go on a slight diversion.
Lots of happy faces on the way to setting up a Fragmental demo in sunny Glasgow
I had a scary alert from LinkedIn this week that I’ve been working at Ruffian for seven years. We’ve done some great things in that time and worked on lots of cool stuff that we don’t get to talk about. Conversely we’ve also had some disappointments and embarrassments but so it goes, gamedev has its highs and lows and we surf through them. Anyway! My point is that despite being a veteran Producer at Ruffian I’m a relative newcomer to the Fragmental team. This is my first Fragmental blog post (more to come!) as I’ve been working on other things *cough* Halo *cough* until we decided to put Fragmental into Greenlight. At which point I joined in to help pull some strings behind the scenes and help promote Fragmental by, err, spamming the shit out of every website that’d let us.
I got banned from Reddit. Seriously, man, fuck Reddit.
Anyway. When I joined Fragmental the project was on a bit of a high because we’d gone into Steam Greenlight, it was going well and we all felt that we had an exciting game on our hands. And that is pretty much exactly the worst point in time to bring everyone back down to earth and figure out how we can actually finish and ship the game. In general, game developers are massively ambitious and they try to do too much. Hands up, we’re no different. So the fist thing we had to do was figure out the long term plan and shape of the game, what content we’d release and how everything we wanted to do might fit into a reasonable timescale longer term.
Our first goal was that we wanted to capitalise on the success of Greenlight as quickly as possible and get the game ready for launch on Early Access and I’m glad to say we’re just a few weeks away from that happening in February.
(I was going to write a bit more about the production side of game development here but, by heck, it’s boring to read about spreadsheets. I’m going to talk more about our development roadmap in a future blog post so I’ll go into a bit more background then instead)
Now back to the GlesGames demo we just did. There’s never a good time for a demo. No matter what size your project is, someone will want a demo of your project at exactly the wrong point in time. It’ll be when your build is going backwards, just when that quickly-hacked-feature-that-never-had-any-right-to-work-in-the-first-place falls to bits and you need to refactor nearly every system just in order to do one trivial thing properly. On big games this usually happens about 2 months before E3.
On the smaller indie scale, things will start to go wrong 2 weeks before you setup in a pub ready to demo in front of some Glaswegian gamers. And, at risk of getting pulled too far into stereotypes, Glaswegians aren’t generally known for pulling their punches when it comes to opinion.
Now I’m going to blow the Ruffian trumpet for a bit. The typical scenario for a game being demo’d is that you’d be up late the night before trying to figure out a problem that is usually explained with the words “But it works on my machine”. Not this time. We had a demo build ready a whole three days before the day itself. This is actually amazing and it’s credit to a lot of hard work and experience in the team. To get to a point where, three whole days before a demo, you have build that is stable, shows approximately 95% of everything you wanted it to show and you’re playing it and everyone is laughing you just, well, you just can’t quite believe it’s happening. But it did happen. Everything was great, so we polished it a bit more. And then we broke it. Fixed it. Broke it again. Fixed it. And then it was Friday afternoon with a demo looming on Saturday and I started to worry and it was getting all dramatic and tight and… We spent the entire afternoon playing the game. It was great! We’d nailed it, the build was rock solid, played fantastically well and we were all really excited about showing the game. Hand on heart, this is the first time I’ve gone into a demo feeling confident that the game isn’t going to do something spectacularly stupid in front of a bunch of people. All I could think about was how much fun we were going to have playing it and that is a very rare feeling to have. I’m not suggesting everything else I’ve ever demo’d isn’t fun. It’s just that there’s always been situations where I’ve been stood in front of hundreds, thousands of people knowing with absolutely certainty that if A or B happens, the game will crash or turn itself inside out and make us look stupid, but not this time. Of course, I realise I’ve totally cursed the next demo by raving about all this. Oh well, you’ve got to ride the good waves when they show up.
The first few players of the evening get hands on with Fragmental. Hopefully, BIlly and Gary play nicely.
A good number of people played Fragmental through the evening and we had a nice crowd around our PC at all times which is always a nice feeling. We also got to see old chums and generally have a Good Time. There was a lot of positive feedback that we got and I think it’s best expressed in the way the evening’s Tournament came to a climax in a 79 round epic battle that pushed and pulled between the two players who remained at the end of the evening. You can see the winning moves under the effect of the slow motion modifier with a shotgun kill in the Vine below.
So that’s it for now. I’ll sign off my first Fragmental blog post with greets and thanks to the guys who made GlesGames possible, we had a great time and we had loads of really positive feedback about Fragmental. Watch out for news of our next demos as we’re aiming to be touring around the UK in the coming months to show Fragmental at various events and expos.
We’re going to be giving Fragmental its 3rd hands-on public outing tomorrow night, and this one is easily the biggest test to date of the game that we’ve created.
Our first appearance was back in November, when we featured at “Games are for Everyone” in Edinburgh. This was a showcase for a lot of indie games in various staged of development. Hosted in a pub, with the bar literally 5m away, the setting was pretty much perfect for a game such as Fragmental, and as hoped it went down a storm.
December arrived, and with it came our second public showing. This time the host venue was the Megabytes café in Glasgow, a café themed around games, both modern & retro. This was a slightly harder sell, as people were mainly coming into the venue for a panini and coffee, or just as a way to get out of the lovely Glasgow weather. For anyone not from around these parts, that last bit was most definitely sarcasm.
The Perfect Build
Now into the new year, and we’re currently pushing hard to create a solid, stable build for our 3rd hands-on event, “GlesGames: Galaxy” in Glasgow.
There is a general process that we go through to get the game into a state that we are happy to show off to the public. In the case of Fragmental, this last week has seen us focus on a sub set of content which we know we can easily control, which will also avoid dropping new players in at the deep end. The addition of rulesets has allowed us to increase variation in this focused set of maps by defining different sets of weaponry and modifiers that will or won’t appear in each level. Wait until you play your first Power Glove only level. Or your first, frankly ridiculous, Disc Gun only level. Brilliant.
A big part of this week has also been spent on getting a 1st pass of a cut down Front End implemented. Its fine having debug info or placeholder images everywhere while we’re working on the game in the studio, but its not something we really want end users to have to see. That way we can pretend that everything we do always looks amazing and polished! Gary’s done some great work on the post-round score screen, making it much easier to see who you’ve killed and who has in turn killed you – which are hugely important in a game where Rounds can last 0.5 seconds.
As of today we have locked down the build, meaning that only absolutely critical bug fixes are taken. While I’m currently sat at my desk righting this, the rest of the team are playtesting the build looking for any last bugs that we think should be fixed ahead of tomorrow’s show.
As a company, and as individuals, we’ve gone through this process many times now, but that doesn’t mean it always goes smoothly. Just yesterday we found an evil crash bug that was only fixed through a series of at first glance unlinked suggestions. Turns out if you won a round while still having a Redeemer (manually controlled missile) in flight, then when the next map tried to load it would crash the game due to faulty garbage collection. But of course it would. Obvious really.
I’m getting so much mileage out of this Jackie Chan image. Wonder how I can use it next time?
As mentioned in the opening of this blog, the Glesgames event will be the biggest gameplay test that Fragmental has had for a couple of reasons:
- The attendees should be pretty much slap bang in the middle of our target demographic.
- The other games on show are mostly released games, and they’re a little bit on the good side.
GlesGames advertise themselves as “A local multiplayer video game event, based in Glasgow”. I’ve not been to one of their events yet, but it looks like a haven for hard core multiplayer games players to meet and compete, meaning that a game is going to have to really stand out and bring something new if it’s to garner any attention from all the established multiplayer games on offer. Imagine taking along along your lovely new racing game, then finding yourself set up next to Mario Kart…
That poster doesn’t even give you the full line-up, there are a few standard heavy hitters that don’t even make it onto the advertising:
- Towerfall Ascension
- Mario Kart 8
- Mount Your Friends
- Gang Beasts
- Ultra Street Fighter IV
It would be accurate to say that even with the overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received so far, there are still a lot of nerves in the team over this demo, but nerves are good. They push you to work harder and make the game better.
Nerves or no, Glesgames should be the perfect testing ground for Fragmental. Right from the very start when we were pitching concepts internally to the team, I’ve had this memory stuck in my head of the nights my group of mates would finish an evening in the pub, then pile back to a randomly selected person’s house to play Goldeneye / Mario Kart / Bomberman / for hours. It would get loud. There would be shouting. There would be swearing. There would be complaints from other family members about the last two things. (Ally, Paul.D, Paul.S, Mike, Jason – thanks guys!) Let’s do a quick checklist of Glesgames against my teenage gaming years…
- Beers: Check
- Competitive games: Check
- Noisy banter: Check
- Shouting / Swearing: Check
- Annoyed family members: If this happens, I’ll be freaked out
In fact that checklist could pretty much be applied to the Ruffian office as well. Apart from (1) & (5). Actually, sometimes (1), but definitely only late on a Friday afternoon. Here’s what it looks like:
There is a second reason this demo is a big deal for us – it will be a fairly accurate representation of what our first early access release on Steam will be. Unless something catastrophic happens, the levels, weapons, modifiers, game modes and music in this demo will be the same as the ones you’ll see if (when!) you purchase this first build. We have a plan in place for regular updates, but are not quite ready to announce anything concrete yet. As this is completely our own game here at Ruffian, for once we are not bound by publisher deadlines, so if we feel that we need to extend the project length in order to squeeze in another cool feature, budget permitting, we at least have the option to do so.
The question of what to include in the first Early Access build has been one that has been discussed at length in the Ruffian office, and only recently have we reached a consensus that everyone is happy with. Too much content means we delay getting the game out there, leaving little time for feedback from the players and the iteration passes that would follow. Too little content and you guys would (rightly) feel hard done by, and won’t be able to get a true feeling of what the game can do.
As it stands, we’re confident we have the core gameplay nailed down, and most of the future updates will be additional content (more levels, more weapons, more modifiers, more game modes etc), with the remaining non-gameplay features coming online at regular intervals after the Early Access launch (e.g. network play).
The exciting news is that we’re close to releasing Fragmental on Steam Early Access. Keep checking back here for more news regarding this as there will be more information in the very near future!