April 7, 2015

It's been a long road, but Space Beast Terror Fright is now live on Steam Early Access.

Here's what's been happening the past few months:

When we launched our Greenlight campaign, we honestly didn't expect much of a response. All the feedback we had been getting from our friends who had playtested the game were lukewarm at best. Most people simply wrote off the game as being too hard, and as a result we had good reason to believe that the game might just be too niche and strange for people to wrap their heads around.

We still felt proud of what we had accomplished, and the S.B.T.F. demo really was a significantly milestone for nornware as a company, but our plan was to push it out to Greenlight and then move on to another project; we wanted to give our intern Johan a shot at working on a radically different genre.

What actually happened was that we started getting reviews and emails before we even made a single move to market our work. We were totally taken off guard, and it pretty soon became apparent that there was quite a bit of interest in the game after all. Soon after (just 2 weeks) the game was Greenlit.

After a bit of a mad scramble we set up our office space, hired our intern, and started working on the actual retail version of the game. Given the opportunity, we had always wanted to use the Steam Early Access model to continue development of our games in conjunction with the community, but we still felt that the retail version of the game needed to have something that pushed it above and beyond what was in the demo.

So now here we are a few months later with our first version out on Steam. We managed to put together 3 new levels styles (Mad has developed mad skills when it comes to material creation in a very short time), implemented full XBox 360 controller support in preparation for our major retail version feature - split screen co-op play for 1-4 players.

Co-op is really a blast to play. The chaos is maximal, and lots of funny situations arise when players try to navigate the situation and still work together as a team.

We look forward to more exploration of this design space together with our community in the coming months!

/johno

January 12, 2015

Space Beast Terror Fright Steam Greenlight Campaign

We have spent the past three days (and nights) working on a presentation of Space Beast Terror Fright, and we are happy to officially announce our Steam Greenlight campaign for the game.

There is brand new trailer for the game, as well as a "making of" feature that goes into a bit more depth. We hope you enjoy both!

Please support our Steam Greenlight campaign here!

Try the demo here!

/johno

January 5, 2015

Space Beast Terror Fright DEMO version released

It's very late (or very early), but I'm happy to announce the initial release of Space Beast Terror Fright. You can get it via the nornware launcher.

It's been a very busy couple of months, but I finally feel that the game is ready for people to try out. It's been really hard stay objective while writing code, chasing bugs, trying to improve performance, and managing an intern, but after a few weeks of Christmas vacation and some healthy procrastination / research into other projects I did a final push these past few days and got the thing out the door.

As it stands S.B.T.F. is probably a very very hard game for most people. This is partly due to the fact that I have been playing it for way to long to be able to tell exactly how hard it is, but also very much because it is intended to be hard. Among the numerous inspirations for this game is of course James Cameron's classic film Aliens, and I really wanted to try to capture the intensity of that movie and attempt to draw it out as much as possible. If you recall most characters died in that movie.

We are planning to put S.B.T.F. up on Steam Greenlight as soon as we can get some video material done; I want to do a philosphical presentation of the project that also gives some insight into what features are planned, as well as the ubiquitous gameplay video that Greenlight requires. Parallell to that stuff nornware is going to focus on a yet unannounced title for at least the coming month, both so we can clear our heads after crunching on S.B.T.F. while monitoring any feedback we get and also so that our intern Johan Angelison has a chance to work on another genre.

I'm feeling very good about nornware launcher as well, which was initially intended to facilitate updates to S.B.T.F. I quickly realized however that there was no cohesive point of access for all the free stuff that nornware has put out, and the fact that the launcher is so simple and unobtrusive made me feel like everything should just go through that pipeline. I know that some people don't like launchers / downloaders, but I have tried my best to make it as absolutely bare bones as possible; remember that the only reason it exists currently is to make it easier for us to get the latest and most bug free versions of the software to you.

Instructions are here, and you can read up our philosophy here.

/johno

September 14, 2014

Intern from The Game Assembly

I am very pleased to announce that we have been working with our very own intern Johan Angelison since September 1. Johan, who is a student at The Game Assembly, will be with nornware for 20 weeks, during which time our goal is to release at least Space Beast Terror Fright if not yet another title.

Welcome aboard Johan!

/johno

August 6, 2014

Gaining Momentum

During the past six months or so, my main development focus has been shifting more and more to Space Beast Terror Fright. I feel that this project has some good traction and is something that could be completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Historically I've probably been one of my own greatest critics when it comes to my games. I tend to mess around with multiple projects at the same time before figuring out which one to commit to; I suppose this has much to do with me being an indie with zero budget. Space Beast Terror Fright has been starting to develop some personality lately, so I think that this will be the next project out the door for nornware.

Why Blueprints Failed

Since posting the last gameplay video I've been thinking a lot about the game on more of a meta level (stuff beyond the main run and gun action). The main changes in gameplay have revolved around experiments with having the downloads the player "collects" give something back in the form of some kind of improvement / gain / edge, given that the game is very punishing. Initially these were "blueprints for equipment" that the player could later purchase once the mission was complete, so there was the concept of credits and upgrades in an out-of-mission screen and a bit of choice and interaction there.

The main problem with the blueprints idea was that the game immediately became much harder, much slower, and much less fun. This was partly because of the fact that I "downgraded" the starting equipment from the state that was shown in the last gameplay video; among other things player no longer started with a motion tracker, which obviously made the game much harder. There was also a reduction to the sense of overall speed and a feeling that the things that you downloaded weren't worth the trouble.

I thought that the fact that the downloads now actually gave the player something useful would motivate walking around in an extremely hazardous environment and trying not to die. Not so; what I came to realize was that since the blueprints were only actually "usable" once you had survived the mission and also had enough credits to build / install the equipment they implied, it felt kind of slow and lame. Also since the player was so downgraded initially, it became much harder to even survive a single mission, rendering the blueprints themselves completely useless in many cases.

Risk vs Reward

That was pretty much a low point, since I felt that I had made the game worse than it had been before, and I was considering a big revert of the codebase. After some analysis however I realized that the strengths of the game really lie in the fact that the action is so fast and frantic. Based on that I started thinking about the game more in terms of something like Astro-Creeps Elite, which is really a classic arcade game that tries to kill you as fast as possible.

In arcade games like that, there is often the concept of risk-vs-reward when it comes to upgrades and powerups. The game will often present them to you, but they may be either only available for a limited time, be in a place that is hard to access, or a combination of both. Astro-Creeps Elite randomly spawns powerups from killed asteroids / Creeps, and the main risk is the fact that you have to maneuver your ship to the powerup to gain anything from it (unless you play with the Shootable Powerups option, but then there is still the risk of triggering a chain reaction that you didn't want...)

It wasn't really suprising in retrospect that Space Beast Terror Fright is based on the old arcade designs that I grew up playing (that's pretty much the type of game I tend to make), so applying the idea that risk should be rewarded immediately really worked. Since the game is so punishing and fast, risking yourself (standing still to get a download) should award you as soon as that download is complete. That is now the case, and that basic mechanism iteratively spawned the current crop of 27 upgrades (plus 4 ammo types), and the game feels even more intense than before with the added gain of the player being able to upgrade and find himself / herself in a much better tactical position.

There is also some character progression stuff going on, more on that as it develops.

Improved Visuals / A.I. adjustments

Other than the core gameplay getting better, I ended up putting a lot of effort into making the levels and graphics look better. I had already decided to use my Swörd technology to build the various parts of the levels, and that workflow has really delivered when it comes to being able to iterate and find a certain style. I am planning on having a larege number of different level styles. Also there are normal maps now, and an experimental lighting system that lets the game be less pitch black.

The new lighting (parts of the level now emit light) really made things look better, but there was initially a big problem; when things are lit from othere sources than the player's light, you can now see aliens mucking about in the level at great distances. As the A.I. previously only detected you at the range of your light, the beasts started feeling kind of silly and stupid. I recently changed the A.I. to now start chasing the player at any distance once the beasts have line of sight, and this feels much better and more dangerous as well as "solving" the problem of you seeing aliens while they don't "see" you.

Another minor problem is that the level lighting system counteracts the effects of the normal maps / bump mapping, as there is no directional information in the lighting. I doubt that I will want to revert to no lights other than the player light, but Valve Software has solved this issue in the Source engine (which uses baked lightmaps) so I might be able to do something similar.

Oh yes, the beast character I'm using is purchased from 3drt.com. I think it is a nice interpolation between Giger's Alien and WarHammer 40k's GeneStealer, so I'm pretty happy with that. The model contains a bunch of animations that I haven't even used yet, so I'm probably going to milk that character some more before release.

/johno

November 3, 2013


the above is a direct game capture using FRAPS,
no doctoring of any kind has been done

A First Look

I'm currently experimenting with procedural content in various ways in multiple projects. This game, Space Beast Terror Fright is sort of a James Cameron's Aliens meets Games Workshop / Space Hulk / WarHammer 40k meets Pac-Man meets RPG.

I'm not very much into horror games as such, especially games that intentionally disempower the player (when it comes to the ability to fight back) and / or "tell" the player to be scared. However, the whole feel of Cameron's Aliens is pretty much ubiquitous for me and many of my friends, and I've often wondered if it would be possible to recreate that same level of intensity (or even trump it) in ways that haven't been tried before.

The goal with SBTF is to create an intense and scary game that very deliberately tries to "boo" you / scare you "for real" with what you might call "cheap tricks". I did a major writeup on how all of this works, but I soon realized that I shouldn't be giving all my tricks away at this point. Suffice it to say that there are lots of subtle things going on behind the scenes to create this experience.

The latest development that I think works suprisingly well is the dynamic scoring system (as in musical scoring) which is a function of the action / intensity. Yes, the music is procedural, and I really think it helps to sell the "action movie" aspect of the experience. The music totally supports what is going on, every time, in a completely dynamic and responsive way.

I'm about to break determinism in my replay system, so I wanted to share this capture with you all before it breaks since it worked so well. It includes me getting lost at the end trying to find the airlock, running out of ammo and battery power for my light, and getting chased down a corridor to my death. Enjoy!

/johno

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