A Game as an LP

Trance Blast Master is designed so the way you enjoy it changes the more times you play it through, like a good album. When you first discover a great album, initially a few tracks grab your attention and others are more subtle. Overall you really like the album, but it is different enough that you don’t completely absorb it all initially. Some of my favourite albums of all time are the ones that grow on you. The more you listen, the more you start to pick up on the nuances. You start to look forward to the upcoming lick, break, lyric, or drop. And you grow to like the deeper tracks more and more as you get to know them, and they often end up becoming your favourites.

That is how I hope people enjoy Trance Blast Master, but in a video-game sense, which is different than simply listening to an album. You are also seeing and interacting, reasoning and reacting. Following the parallel of learning to love a good album, your experience with Trance Blast Master will evolve through the phases of Discovery - Challenge - Mastery.

Discovery: Where is this journey leading? What is this mysterious energy device? What lies beneath the next layer of existence?

Challenge: At first the challenge will be to figure out how each level works. There are no tutorials in the game per-se. Each level gives a little visual indicator of what buttons or input to use, but that’s it. You have to figure out how to advance, what elements help you and what ones hinder you. There will be a mini-eureka moment in each level where you go, “Okay, I get it”.

Mastery: After you complete the first playthrough, you will have figured out all the levels. Now you cruise through full playthroughs and individual levels with ever increasing efficiency and flawlessness. You get a sense of flow, of constant progression. The custom soundtrack unfolds like a continuous mixed album.

A flawless full playthrough of Trance Blast Master will take about one hour, the same length as a music album. It’s unlikely you will come close to that your first or second time through. First-time playthroughs will take several hours. It is going to take expert level skill and a curious mind to actually crack the one-hour threshold.

Deep Loop LP is the first in a series of Trance Blast Master games over which this story will unfold. Keeping in mind the Hard Chill Games ethos of Adrenalizing Gaming Experiences in Bite-Size Consumable Chunks, I envision creating even shorter games for some of the chapters, for which an EP label makes sense.

So the inclusion of the LP label has a few meanings. Trance Blast Master has music at it’s core. The experience will parallel learning to love one of your favourite albums, but in the context of a video game, through Discovery, Challenge, and Mastery. If you do acheive mastery, the play time will be about the same as a full-length album, an LP. And by naming the games in the Trance Blast Master series with LP or EP, you will have an idea of what to expect for play time.

Game Over GameON:Ventures 2016

#GameONVentures is a wrap

Thanks #GameONVentures for hosting Hard Chill Games on the expo floor. It was great to meet the other developers from Ontario and around the world. As an indie developer that works alone most of the time, it’s always refreshing to get together with people on the same wavelength and talk shop.

When you demo your game at a show like this, the feedback you get is invaluable. You hear from both completely inexperienced noobs from the general public, and the other developers and delegates that are experts in their own right that offer such informed and honest opinions.

And it was a treat to hear John Romero @romero recount some stories from his own halcyon days.

Trance Blast Master at GameON:Ventures

Hard Chill Games will be on the expo floor at GameON: Ventures 2016 at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto on Oct 20th & 21st. Stop by the booth and try the latest demo of Trance Blast Master. The expo is open to the public from 3PM to 5PM on Friday the 21st. Event Info. #GameONVentures

The Dust Has Settled on GDC 2016

I had a booth on the floor at GDC Play 2016. It’s been just over a month since then. I’ve recovered, reflected, regrouped. Here are some thoughts on my experience, and some advice for indie developers thinking about showing at GDC Play:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Your feet will still ache though.
  • Test your stamina. Long days on the floor, parties every night, dumpsters getting emptied by garbage trucks at 5 AM in the alley outside your budget hotel. I suppose you could go home early every night and go to bed at a sensible hour, but it's GDC! Might as well go for it while the free beer is flowing! And many of the lasting connections and genuine conversations happen at the social events.
  • Take a break when you get back. Completely walk away from work if you can. I put in a big crunch getting a build ready for GDC, so was a little burnt out, and stressed out, and then exhausted. I've learned the lesson over the years working in AAA development that you really do need to completely shut down in order to recuperate from burnout. Unfortunately, I did not follow what my experience has taught me. I had the myriad of follow-ups to deal with, it was tax time, I was amped up from all the awesome feedback I got, so kept trying to pick away at work, albeit at a slower pace. But it ended up taking way longer to really get back in the saddle and get back to producing at a high level again. I think as a professional indie developer, or probably any kind of entrepreneur, there is a tendency to sometimes try to do too much, because stuff's got to get done, and no one else is going to do it. But it's about the marathon, not the sprint. So lesson learned - need to do a better job recognizing when to go into shutdown mode after a big push.
  • Bring water to your booth. You will lose your voice.
  • Bring aspirin to your booth. You went to a party last night, remember?
  • Hustle. I learned pretty quickly in the first morning on the floor that most people would simply walk by the booth if I didn't actively approach them. Maybe my booth or the game was not inviting enough, maybe it's an introvert-skewed crowd, but I found most people would cruise down the aisle, eyes on the game, then see me standing there and quickly avert their eyes, look at the rafters, gaze at their shoes. However, if I just gave a little wave and said, "Hey, wanna try the game?", about 90% of people would shrug and say "Sure, why not?". Then they'd play the game and often stay and chat for 10 minutes afterwards. I would get so much constructive feedback, but if I hadn't made the effort to approach them, that feedback would have never materialized.
  • Sign up for Uber and Lyft accounts. If you're an urbanite where these exist, that statement probably makes me sound like a hick who just got his first cellular telephone with world-wide-web linkage. For the rest of the world coming to San Francisco, these cars are ubiquitous, cheap, efficient, comfortable, and really (again) cheap if you ride share.
  • For solo indies, be realistic about what you can accomplish. Things take waaaay longer when you are working by yourself as compared to with a team. The whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts when it comes to teamwork. I do plan on building a small team eventually, but until I get the concept, design, and infrastructure locked down on the game, I'm flying solo. When I originally decided to commit to GDC Play, I wanted to have a solid vertical slice of the game ready, enough for a teaser trailer. Then I would try to make a marketing and PR splash, and hopefully attract some media attention. I put a plan on paper that showed I could do it. I didn't even come close. I came in hot with one playable level. I was coding in my hotel room the first few days of the week, even making the final changes Wed morning before the show floor opened. In the end, I didn't reach my initial goal of getting on the media's radar, but the concentrated feedback from such an expert crowd was invaluable. It was by far a net-positive experience, but I'm not sure I would jump in again if I knew I wasn't going to be able to meet my development targets.
  • Eat a big breakfast in one of the many old-school diners around Union Square.
  • Get help to cover your booth. There weren't many solo indies at GDC Play - it seemed more like a lot of small teams. But if it's just you, you will need help. Luckily there was a Canadian Trade Delegation in which several Atlantic Canadian developers were participating just around the corner from me. So there were some friendly faces that I could get to cover my booth while I ran to the washroom and grabbed a sandwich.

GDC is behind me, and I’m heads down working on my next milestone now. I’ve incorporated most of the feedback I received at the show. Some improvements to the flow of the level, like making it less harsh when you crash, obstacles fading away after you collide so they don’t get you twice, better visual synchronization with the music, and a brighter position indicator to help with depth perception. Of course all this means nothing to anyone who has not played it yet, but stay tuned, there will be more visuals and video in the coming weeks and months.

GDC Booth is Ready To Go

It’s painful to watch some people struggle with the difficulty of the game, but very rewarding to hear comments like “omg that’s cool” and “wow that is so trippy”.

Announcing Trance Blast Master : Deep Loop LP

Announcing Trance Blast Master : Deep Loop LP, an action-music game coming to PC’s and PS4 in 2017. A pre-alpha demo of the game will be on display at GDC Play in San Francisco March 16-18. Over the next few months, this blog will be updated with more info about the game, development and design insights, and some random tidbits. Follow on Facebook and Twitter to get notified about updates.