Celebrity-ification in indie game news, nothing we can do, maybe

Most of this argument is rooted in believing that games as a culture will grow best if we are exposed to a wider variety of games and if the journalism backing everything also looks at a wider variety of games rather than a popular few. The same idea is at the root of the Indie Game Stores movement (https://bit.ly/whyindiegamestores) .

In recent news, well, read it if you want. http://www.examiner.com/article/phil-fish-breaks-a-gasket-tells-media-member-to-kill-himself

It’s an observation of what I think is an effect of the tendency for game news to solicit opinions of the more popular developers. Perhaps that makes sense if you want to retain readers, they might be more trusted though there is no reason to trust them over anyone else (as Jon Blow points out) – no one really has the “facts”, just guesses.

Anyways, there is a tendency to reach out for celebrity-like developers for facts. Obviously this happens everywhere – not just in games, and there is not much  we can do about it, since it is a way to get something read by more people. You can always get a lot of hits or views on a news piece by talking about something Notch or Jon Blow or Phil Fish says, even if their opinion might hold less information than someone else’s.

My initial thought is that this sort of behavior – covering stories like the phil fish one – is hurtful to the community as a whole. We are wasting our time writing about useless things, rather than looking at more interesting reasons why these useless things even occur. And we are spending less time covering an argument than we could have spent analyzing or discussing a small, not well-known game, and exposing that to other players and developers. And it does not reflect well on the public outside of games, to think we are a medium that only has a few “Good” games, this makes trying to win over cultural acceptance even harder, if we don’t expose the wide variety of ideas being explored through games, and instead look at small arguments.

The same goes for normal news, and many other systems where celebrities can form (I guess it’s a normal human behavior thing)?

What this results in is a culture that centers upon a few things that can be important (FEZ, minecraft, braid are obviously important games), but that can be hurtful when we focus too much upon a few things, rather than looking for influences in more places.

Oh well. You can still do your part by just not talking about celebrities, I guess, but as far as the general will of the public goes, we are screwed.


Getting japanese fonts working with an Adobe AIR game for free

Instructions on how to get Japanese (or any language) fixed-width bitmap fonts working, assuming you have the TTF file and uses UTF-8 encoding.

I am likely going to be releasing a Japanese version of Anodyne in September for Windows (Mac, Linux and iOS if I can compile by then), working with a localization team Kakehashi Games – who have localized many things in the AAA sphere, as well as the indie – they did Superbrothers . Which is quite cool!

Anyways, this is a pretty straightforward task programmatically, there are just a few hiccups. For some reason there is no easily available program that does exactly this, but there are lots of pre-existing tools that you can cobble together.

Anodyne uses the FlxBitmapFont.as class. It is a great bitmap font class that works with fixed-width bitmap fonts as PNGs, and uses a string to map character codes to the actual symbols.

So I was recommended a font that would work, and I set out to find it  – which was easy – I found it in PNG form. Unfortunately, the .png that was provided did not match up with the data of the actual .TTF , so I couldn’t get a character string out of the .png which I would use for the bitmap font class. So that wouldn’t work.

And typing out the string myself is not feasible, because, well…

…yeah.

So the TTF MUST contain character codes, right? I found a nice python program – http://sourceforge.net/projects/fonttools/ – which, once installed has a command-line utility, ttx.py .

If you run

python ttx.py -t cmap font_file.ttf

It produces the file “font_file.ttx” . It’s just an XML file though, and contains all of the character codes in hexadecimal format. Depending on the file there could be a few different character sets in there, but it’s easy enough to cut out the ones you don’t want via inspection and playing with the TTF in a text editor. Once you’ve done that, it’s straightforward to convert the XML file into a UTF-8 string that will be used in your game to map the character codes to symbols in your font. I just wrote this quick python script, which just extracts the character codes from every “<map>” node and writes it out to a file. If you uncomment the “out_s += “\n”” line, you can make it print a certain number of characters per line, which is useful for making a .png that you can read better. However, you will want to comment it out when generating the string you use for mapping characters with FlxBitmapFont.

import sys
f = open(sys.argv[1],”r”)

out_s = “”
ct = 0
for line in f:
    if “<map” in line:
        code = line.split(“\””)[1]
        code = unichr(int(code,16)).encode(“utf-8”)
        out_s += code
        ct += 1
        if ct == 50:
            ct = 0
#            out_s += “\n”
    if “</cmap” in line:
        break
f.close()
f = open(“test.txt”,”w”)
f.write(out_s)
f.close()

Now, we just need to make the actual font picture.

I downloaded and installed the free ImageMagick

convert -background “transparent” -fill “#000″ -pointsize 8 -font misaki_gothic.ttf label:”@test.txt” ~test.png

Assuming the python script spat out “test.txt” , the ‘convert’ program will produce ‘~test.png’ which is a png with 8×8 boxes for each character code in test.txt , in white (#000) color, with a transparent background – which is what is needed for FlxBitmapFont and Anodyne.

Then you’re done. Just copy and paste the string into your game where you can reference it, and you should be good to go! You may need to trip the picture in some image editor.

And…

Summary:

1. Find a free TTF

2. Convert to XML with ttx.py

3. Create PNG with imagemagick, create character string with any script

4. Add to game!

Note: Friend Ethan (who ports a lot of games to Linux and is very good at it!) wrote something with SDL that may do this . I have not tried it, but it could very well be quicker than doing what I’ve outlined: http://t.co/WXHqaZMbk9


We need personally-curated Indie Game Stores for lesser-known titles.

If you are in the press and have questions, feel free to e-mail me at seagaia@f-m.fm .

This is an attempt at a movement of sorts in how we as a community approach spreading the word about other games.

There is a tendency in the indie community (i.e. the “we” in the title – defined as developers and their personal connections)  – and likely other mediums’ social circles – to heavily promote your own stuff via social media, and not other peoples’ (retweets are nice, but not the same as say, an entire facebook post or tweet or blog post, and there is something stronger with the permanence of a web page than the fleeting nature of a tweet). When we do, the spread is still equally among insanely popular and less-well-known games.

If we’re in positions of even a little bit of power (as musicians, journalists, developers, or whatever), we should be also be spending a little more time talking about games that deserve to be providing more financial support for their developers, and more over, influencing more players and developers who otherwise would have not known about the game. The indie community, like most other communities, has an incredibly unbalanced power structure that roughly mirrors society as a whole.  It’s arguable that this is unavoidable in any sort of social structure, but we can at least try. And it starts with: STOP. Stop promoting games that are already popular. We are just reinforcing the power structures when we do this – and trust me – we don’t need to, the majority of the public will do it naturally. Yes, our friends might have popular games and we want to support them. But the rest of the public will do this if this is the case so we should focus efforts elsewhere. As a creative medium, the more ideas that can become widely known, the better off it is for all devs as a whole.

What is better? Game X and Y are both important. X sells a million copies, Y sells 50. If something like this takes off – then perhaps Y sells 500 copies (while the will of the public still produces 1,000,000 sales for X) – and Y thus influences more developers than Y would have. Which can only be good in a creative medium like games. If you’re a developer of Game X, there isn’t much to worry about! You’re doing a public service and it probably won’t cut into your sales that much.

I’ve undoubtedly done this a lot for Anodyne (that is – self-promotion without a lot of focused giving back to friends/other devs), but I’m hoping to change that by trying to give back to the friends and devs who have supported me, or maybe even devs I don’t know but I think deserve more exposure. I do not think I have as much of a social media presence as others and this likely won’t be super effective on my own, but maybe others will follow suit.

So I made an “Indie Store”, just links to stores (or humble widgets if they exist) for games of other developers.

I also made a Twitter Account that you can tweet at with links to your own stores – I’ll RT/tweet about it/etc. An ideal situation would be that people regularly update their stores and point their “recommendation tweets” to those stores,  or a centralized store composed of multiple stores made by people.

I suggest you make your own storefront, too. I also suggest if you have a popular-ish blog or facebook page, occasionally mention some less-well-known games. Maybe point people to YOUR storefront. But keep in mind:

  1. With the store the point isn’t to advertise all of your friends’ games (as nice as that would be). Only advertise games that could use the help – this means, if you take the time to do this, don’t bother with insanely popular games that don’t need the promotion space.
  2. A good rule of thumb is that if a game is on Steam and has a couple hundred “recommendations”, it probably doesn’t need to be helped any more (Anodyne falls into this category.), exception being a large dev team circumstance, etc.
  3. Try to include a link to the game’s website, or give a short description, or mention where the developer can be found on Twitter or whatever. Descriptions are necessary, people need to know *why* you’re recommending the game!

How YOU can help:

Journalist: Keep some blog post somewhere that is occasionally updated with Humble widgets or links to stores of lesser-known games. Talk about it on Twitter or in articles. Maybe even write an article on one of them, if you have the time! If you already do this, great. The store would be one more good step.

Video makers: Make a video covering a lesser-known, but released and for-sale (or free download) game, that is not covered by many other large video makers. Also do the personal store thing, tweet, etc.

Owners of large social media pages – for games – on Twitter/Facebook, etc. Take the time to make posts on recommendations of smaller, lesser-known games. You can actually drive a few sales this way!

Developer – Make your own store! Put it on a website or whatever. It’s really easy. Tweet about it, and add games to it occasionally, tweet a link to it, etc. If you’re a developer of a smaller game, make a streamlined way to buy your game. Widgets are the best (Humble does this well) – this is pretty good, too: http://itch.io/

Anyone! – Do the same! Word of mouth can be powerful.

We all tweet about popular games being on sale. This is because they are often fun and we want our friends to play them. But occasionally, if we all say, decide on every other time the thought to tweet about a popular game crosses our mind, instead go and link to our store page, this will have a net benefit on the entire community, as more and more small titles are discovered.

Just to remember, while Anodyne wouldn’t have been finished if Jon and I didn’t finish it and work our asses off, a lot of Anodyne’s success also came down to friends helping us through, and plain dumb luck – the biggest two points being Jon and I even meeting in the first place, and then again in the post-release phase for Anodyne – I still think Anodyne being on Steam is due to us being in the right place at the right time with The Pirate Bay promo and Greenlight – and so I hope to spread the publicity, wealth, etc, to those who haven’t had their strokes of luck yet, while improving the medium as a whole through the discovery of smaller titles.

Sean

——–

Common misconceptions:

– This isn’t a storefront for your own game! It’s a movement that is trying to get people to lean towards curating their own stores and mentioning them more often in their tweets/posts rather than individual tweets towards a single game.


Hopes for GAMELOADING , the next big indie game movie

With Indie Game: The Movie, the public got an important glimpse into the reality of a few incredibly successful game developers. It was important in that it made clear that game development is very much a creative process, a process that is capable of influencing other humans around the world.

Now, obviously not everything can be covered in a 90 minute feature film. And it’s not expected that would be the case, and I am NOT criticizing IGTM for what they did, I think IGTM was a massive step towards public understanding of game development.

One of the largest things that remains to be covered in a large public film is the significant majority of independent game developers who come nowhere near the success of those mentioned in IGTM – while they may not be financially successful, they often have many friends in the scene, friends whose games may go on to be financially and publically successful. And those “successful” devs have their friends to thank for it, often times. Thus – they should be covered, too. While it may be the successful games that end up being the most culturally impacting, a lot of that relies on the work of their friends and colleagues – and it is worth covering them, too.

That’s why I’m hoping this Kickstarter – “GAMELOADING” – can accomplish this. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/studiobento/gameloading-rise-of-the-indies .

We will get a personal glimpse of the endless hard work, risks faced and sacrifices indie developers make to bring their creations into the world.  What drives them?  What does it mean to succeed?  Will they make it?

“We have been working, planning and researching for a year and have shot over a dozen interviews with developers from different parts of the globe at different stages in their careers.”

We are closely following a handful of development teams in Australia.

I think that has the potential to be very eye-opening for the public, if some of these development teams are ones that will never see success. People struggling to make ends meet, and then failing. Releasing a game after years of work, but it sells 10 copies. Realizations of the various horror stories. What does it mean for someone to fail, how does it affect their children, their partners, their job, their parents, their existences, hopes, dreams, etc?

For example, suppose Super Meat Boy did get horrible ratings, never sell, and Tommy and Edmund went into bankruptcy.  or Phil Fish got sued and couldn’t finish the game.

Or take the thousands of unfinished or unnoticed projects floating around the internet. At 2:09 in the video, someone mentions the horror of “making a …masterpiece that no one gives a shit about.” – , I am really hoping that they do cover a studio or person that has made a game that has not caught on – someone working night and day with a grueling job, who never makes it, showing the stark reality of what an outcome of a finished game can be.

It’s good that people are learning about the independent scene, but it would be healthier in general if this new movie gave a view that did not end up a bit  clouded by survivorship bias of developers that have made hundreds of thousands of dollars (of which there are a few in this movie so far) and perhaps only qualified by a few afterthoughts or brief interviews with developers who didn’t become as financially successful.

Indies everywhere are NOT succeeding to their personal metrics of success.

I think GAMELOADING has the potential for showing this, if they manage to focus their film in certain ways – as interesting as perhaps, interviewing a developer of Minecraft or Doodle Jump might be, I don’t think spending lots of time on them is going to paint much of a fair representation of the different phases developers are in. Those developers  of games like Antichamber, PixelJunk …, Spaceteam – all have great stories to tell. But they are the successful few, and their stories must be balanced with those of people who never “made it”.

The creative struggle and other issues are universal among game developers. I’m really hoping that GAMELOADING manages to show this. There are many other aspects of the development scene that I think are important to cover – the various subcommunities – but this is some aspect that I think affects all of those communities and is worth covering.

Sean Hogan

Watched Indie Game The Movie. I think the moral of the story is: if you’re stressed, tired, poor and alone, you’re about to release a hit.

— The Optimistic Indie (@optimisticindie) June 28, 2013