Friday, November 29, 2013

Chess Heroes: The Demo is LIVE!

I am excited to announce that the Chess Heroes demo is live and ready for you download!

After three expo showings in three months (SIX in September, Captivate in October, iFEST in November) and after adding a ton of new features and polish, the demo has become quite a feature-packed action hour of fun! Please give it a try, and let me know what you think on Facebook or on Twitter!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One Day Of Development

Would you like to know what I get up to on a sample day? Specifically, a day leading up to the demo's full public release? Well, you're in luck! Here's a list of what I got done on Monday, Nov. 25th.

Remove "Work In Progress" bar
Change "Design Demo" to "The Demo Version!"
Add Web link
Add twitter link
Add blogger link
Add Facebook link
Add Steam link

Add Steam link
Adjust position of "quit for real button"
Change release date

Remove Bar crown
Fix button positions to be proportional to screen

Test deeper shadows, less ambient light (ambient from 51 to 25, angle prev. at rot. 50, 147, -3 now sharper)
Fix broken textures of castle

Destroy stars and checkmate ribbon so they don't block "you unlocked" screen
Create high spaces for Granary
Debug Commands only enabled if UIO is pressed together
Add debug mode to show cursor position

Pawn King disappears after Checkmate [can't repro in debug environment?] [posted on forums]
Identify odd "speck" in lower left quadrant, visible in Harbor 1 [menu camera was not excluding board spaces]
allowPlayerKingToMoveIntoCheck not checked when entering state Turn Start
Sliding pieces not checking number of pieces between themselves and target when tested by CanCapturePieceIfOtherPieceMovesToXY
Enrage tutorial: bishop is not re-selected
After a piece has been enraged and moved, it can't be deselected if selected later in the game
Upgrade tutorial: could not select pawn

Update intros for Act 2 and Act 3
Update summaries for all three acts
Update "About" text for Abilities and Magic
Upgrade tutorial: eliminate "captures create energy"
Update text for all four tutorials
Enrage tutorial: change "granary" to act 3

Find or create Star sound
Find or create Checkmate sound
Find victory music
Find defeat music
Add Star sound
Add Checkmate sound
Add victory music
Add defeat music
Add Execute music intro (same as tutorial)
Reduce volume of spell casting
Add sound effects to Granary Menu
Add sound effect to "To Battle"
Add sound effect to vignette fade before battle

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chess Heroes News: November 15, 2013

"Games are a series of interesting decisions." -- Sid Meier

New Features And Additions

It was a short week and I had a hurt shoulder, but I still managed to cram a bunch of stuff into the game!
  • An "Execute" move that lets you handily take care of a single, straggling enemy piece wandering about the board. It's cinematic and satisfying.
  • AI that does a full analysis of each move, including whether it's a mistake (unforced error) or a trap.
  • AI that has difficulty levels, which are limits on the number of mistakes and traps it can attempt over the course of the scenario.
  • "Sick" enemy pieces that have a nifty graphical treatment and a special AI override that makes them push for your home row. If any reach that spot, the game is over!
  • Full design support for high spaces. These are board spaces that pop up a bit, slowing down sliding pieces and subtly altering the landscape.
  • A new chess logic engine that is faster, deeper, and more robust. This was a badly needed update, as it was becoming rather difficult to debug AI problems.

Ruminations on Target Audiences 

Chess Heroes may have Peter Pan syndrome. Not the desire to be eternally young, but the problem author J.M. Barrie faced when trying to turn his play into a success. After moribund results from adult audiences, he ensured kids from a local orphanage were scattered throughout the theatre. Their raucous peals of laughter loosened the atmosphere, and soon the adults joined in as well. Had J.M. Barrie not introduced kids into the equation, adults might have written it off as ... to quote the Disney movie ... poppycock.

I bring up Peter Pan because the most enthusiastic, ecstatic players of Chess Heroes are children. The aesthetic is soft and approachable, the controls are intuitive and easy, the pace is self-regulated, and the visceral feedback of the pieces knocking into each other has them jumping up and down in their chairs. Adults -- and we had several fans with beards -- tend to be more reserved in their judgement. This is something to keep in mind should it be presented to, say, chess teachers, or parents: they may underscore the value of what we have here, because they have lost touch with the simple delights of childhood.

Goals of the Demo 

I'm sure folks are wondering why the demo isn't ready yet. The reason is: I want it to be packed full of so much new material that people can't justify NOT trying the full version. And the features that I'm adding are -- exclusively -- features that would be added for Act 1. In a sense, I'm pushing back the date for the demo, but not the final product. The goal is still Act 1 in December.

Kindle Fire?

I can't shake the feeling that missing out on "the tablet Christmas of 2013" would be a huge mistake. Can I possibly whip up a smaller version of the first Act into shape so that it's available on a tablet (say, the Kindle Fire) by then? We'll see!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chess Heroes at iFEST Seattle

A wee bit blurry. Sort of how we felt after eight hours of talkin'!
This weekend, Corey and I brought Chess Heroes to iFEST, an independent game expo at its annual stop in Seattle. We hit the road out of Eugene at 5 AM, cruised into Seattle (blasting Paul's Boutique) at about 9:15, and drove to the address specified by the Seattle Center.

When we arrived, the navigator voice stated our destination was on the left. We looked to the left. It was a demolished building. Uh oh!

After a laugh and few choice words for modern computational touchtronic navigational assistance, we figured it all out and were set up not thirty minutes later.

The folks running the show were great (thanks for the help, Terry!), and Chess Heroes won a bunch of new fans. There was one hair-pulling incident, involving a special chess piece that would disappear and break the game. And it only happened on the Windows version! Ah well. Something to ponder before the demo goes live!

Corey noted that the people who "got it" the most were kids and other game designers who were at the show. For kids, the accessible nature of the game was a big plus, and the animations really made an impact (especially the Rook shooting the Pawn!).

The Rook's special move never failed to make a smile!
And then there were kids who really got into it, pushing their pieces around like tiny Caesars and jumping up in down in their chair as they captured pieces.

This young man raised his arms in victory and shouted "FOR NARNIA!"
We did not correct him. =) 
Meanwhile, game designers talked about their love of strategy games and the appeal of trying to inject something fresh into the game. Our line was "We're taking chess in a new direction, and we're trying to see if it leads to a cliff or a verdant forest." Or, as an A/B test, "We're taking chess in a new direction, and seeing how far we can go before we get pitchforked." Proper chess folks did not set our table on fire, thank goodness, so I think we escaped that sad fate.

Finally, there were the normal gamers who just got hooked and would not stop playing, even retrying certain scenarios over and over until they won.

It took him ten tries to beat this scenario.
Far from being frustrated, he voted us best in show!
At the end of the day, my beliefs about the game were reinforced.

  • Kids and game designers will be our biggest fans.
  • It's easy to dismiss the game until you play it (and then you can't stop).
  • Therefore, I have a serious marketing problem on my hands!
I also heard  (from the fine folks at Zachtronics) that the name of the game might be a liability. It's chess, but not chess. There are no "heroes" with capes and swords. Sort of like how their game Spacechem was neither about a) Space or b) Chemistry, and that was not a good name for the (excellent, well-designed) game! Something to think about, surely.

Also from the Zachtronics camp was a suggestion to make a sequel in space. Little did she know... that was the plan!  =)  [but first, ship version one!]

Before I wrap up, I want to give a quick shout out to the lovely indie devs of Seattle I'm slowly getting to know, as I somehow end up there every other month or so:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Chess Heroes News: November 8, 2013

BAM! It's update time, sucka!
At this time tomorrow, Corey (the musician) and I will be driving back from iFEST in Seattle. That's three public showings in three months, and it's pretty amazing to be in the middle of it all.

I've also been extremely active in the local business community, working with local game developers and entrepreneurs. I'm sowing seeds, basically, and what will pop up? I don't know, but I believe it will be good!

These expos and outreach programs carry a heavy cost. Since we're in November and Act 1 isn't ready yet, you can tell just how much of a hit my schedule has taken. However, the upside is more time on foundations, and making the game as widely appealing as possible.

So when's the game coming out?

November is now the month the demo will be released. After that will come an IndieGogo campaign for pre-orders, then a full release of Act 1 in December or January.

Oh yeah. I ran the game on an iPhone this week. Want to see what it looks like?

Pretty much the same, minus the shadows!
The game looks and plays brilliantly, even on the tiny screen. Along with a very, very consistent request people have made ("I want to play this on a tablet!"), these results have cemented my decision to not only support Windows, OS X, and Linux, but iOS and Android as well. While it will ALSO have an impact on my schedule, I can't afford to "leave money on the table," as it were!

Big thanks to Unity for making that possible. =)

What's new this week?

Along with the iOS build, I added full support for Check and Checkmate (which was waaaay deeper than I thought it would be). This satisfies a consistent request from chess teachers. I included a toggle as well, so I'm not tied down as a designer.

I also added "victory stars" for your performance in each scenario. This is another feature people have asked for, and -- silly as it sounds -- it really brings home the idea that it's becoming more of a "real" game.

New website! New website. Soooo much better than the old website. Check it out!

Finally, I realize I haven't been doing a good job keeping this blog up to date. I now have a Friday newsletter I e-mail "shareholders" (aka indie game dev support group), and that will help me keep this site fresh as well.