If you’ve been reading our blogs you’ll know that we have been campaigning on social media to get Microsoft to put our drawing and describing game, Interference into the Apps for Windows Ink Collection – a curated collection of apps that are perfect for the Surface devices and pens.
Each day we would post on Twitter and Facebook our plea – along with a gif of a particularly good drawing that we’d had submitted to the game that day.
… when Jen from Microsoft got in touch and said that they would have a look at it. Seems we didn’t have many recent reviews – as we have forums in the game so players usually say nice things about Interference in there. We put out a plea to our players for a few new reviews in the Windows Store and got them. Then we were told that we could have Interference in Apps for Windows Ink for 30 days – to see how it went.
It is so great as we’ve had lots of new players already and get emails from the Windows Store to say that our trends are up.
It’s good to know that persistence pays off – we’re not sure how long we will be in the collection – but long may it last!
With this being our first game jam, we weren’t quite sure how to plan or how to manage our time. As the jam started at 02:00 in our time zone, we decided the best idea would be to check what the theme would be, then to go to sleep hoping that we’d subconsciously come up with some ideas overnight.
By the time we were actually ready to start (after recording and editing the weekly Interference update video), it was Saturday afternoon – about 11 hours in to the jam. We’d had time to think about the theme (“A small world”) for a while, and decided to do something based around looking at a petri dish through a microscope. We’re both fans of puzzles, so decided to make some kind of simple puzzle game.
Berni quickly came up with the idea of showing the player a petri dish with various “bugs” in that would have several attributes (eg colour, shape) and the player would have to apply the correct drugs to make the bug shrink (but using the wrong drug would cause it to grow). For example, a spiky yellow virus would grow if given a round yellow drug (wrong shape), but would shrink if given a square yellow drug (correct colour, correct shape (well, it has corners!)).
I’ve been spending my spare time learning about Unity, so decided this would be a good excuse to play around with that. My experience consisted of reading “Teach Yourself Unity Game Development in 24 Hours” and doing half of a Unity course on Udemy, but I hadn’t actually made anything from scratch. Still, never hurts to have a go at things.
For the first few hours, I had a go at implementing the system Berni had devised, but – if I’m completely honest – didn’t have much success. I managed to set something up where you could drag coloured shapes onto other coloured shapes, and then they’d change size depending on whether the colours matched or not. It sort of worked, but didn’t feel very fun – you just piled drugs on to one bug, then moved on to the next. Berni suggested making different bugs grow at different rates, and introducing bugs that had two colours, but I thought it was getting a bit complicated (and whilst I could cope with changing the colour of a sprite renderer in Unity to make different coloured bugs, I had no idea how to handle things with two colours – swap in different sprites, rather than colouring the same sprite?).
I suggested that we keep things simple: display the bugs in a grid, then have the player add drugs which would affect adjacent cells. You’d have to work out the correct placement in order to get the right combinations of colours. To make it a bit more interesting, we’d make the grid out of hexagons. I mean, that can’t be too hard to work out, can it?
Several hours (and a few pages of scribbled notes) later, I’d finally made a system that could generate a “circle” of hexagons, given a number of layers. The problem with hexagons compared to squares is that it’s harder to refer to a particular hexagon – in a square grid you can say something like (1,4) and it means “one along, four up”. The problem is that whilst one row of hexagons will fit into that, when you do the next row everything is shifted across by half a hexagon. I eventually implemented this by assuming that rows would alternate between sitting on even numbers and odd numbers on the grid. It seemed like a good idea at the time (just shift everything by 0.5 on every other line), but in hindsight I think there’s probably a better solution involving adjusting the Y axis of your grid to go at an angle. By the time I realised this, I’d already done a lot of implementation, so decided to leave things as they were.
Next was dealing with drugs being dropped into the grid cells (or “hexes”, as I called them in the code). That was pretty simple – Unity’s collision system took care of most of it. Whilst a drug was being dragged, we kept track of any hexes that it collided with, and when the mouse was released we dropped it into the last empty hex it touched. This just involved setting its position to the same as the hex and setting the drug’s parent to the hex. At this point, we also check the colour of the drug, and then set the colour of the hex to match. If a drug is picked up again, we set the colour of the hex that was its parent back to white. To change the adjacent cells, we check the two above, the two below, and the ones to the left and right – six in total. Well, I say six – one of the obvious things that I forgot to check was whether those hexes actually exist (eg if the cell is on the far left of the grid, then there won’t be any cells to the left of it). Fortunately, that was easy to fix once I’d realised my mistake.
I’d written a lot of code in the last few hours, so decided to do something else for a bit – making some sprites. I’m not much of an artist, but thought I could probably manage something that looked a bit like a virus. Using the excuse that I was aiming for a minimalist style, I came up with a few varieties that looked OK. They did seem a little boring, though. One of the things that had just been covered in my Unity course was animation, so I messed about with that quickly, setting a simple animation that made the sprite shrink a bit then grow (as if the virus was breathing). Surprisingly (for a change that took about two minutes), it looked pretty good and made a big difference. It gave me the idea that the viruses shouldn’t be removed when treated, just suppressed – so they’d become active again if you moved a drug away or added the wrong drug next to it. I quickly made another animation that made the virus shrink and stop moving.
To test things out, I made a script to pick random hexes and spawn viruses of random colours, then edited the “do stuff when a drug is dropped” script to check the colour of any adjacent viruses and set an “isSuppressed” flag if the drug colour matches the virus. That triggers the animation to change from “idle” to “suppressed”. I was rather pleased when I ran the game, saw a few viruses spawn and start “breathing”, then stop when I placed drugs next to them. It was starting to feel like a game! We made a minor adjustment to the drug sprites here – adding a “C” to the centre of them – to make it more obvious when a hex contained a drug.
Something that I’d learnt from the Unity course was that adding sound makes a big difference, even if it’s just a small thing. I didn’t want to spend ages looking though lists of sounds, so just grabbed a microphone and recorded myself making a “pop” sound. Playing that when a virus spawned made things feel better, but it still seemed that something was missing. We thought that perhaps a sound for when a drug was picked up or dropped would help, so I recorded a “chk” sound. Almost there – but the whole thing was a little quiet when you weren’t doing anything. We added a bit of background music (a track from our friends at Vivid Muzik), and everything came together 🙂
It started to feel like things were almost done, but then I realised the big oversight that I’d made. Whilst the virus spawning system seemed to work well, it was just picking random hexes with no consideration for whether the puzzle would actually be solvable. I’d not had to write anything like this before, so wasn’t sure if there was a standard approach for it. In the end, I reasoned that if I made the game generate a solved grid, then pick viruses to spawn based on that, it would always be solvable. It appears to work, but perhaps there’s an edge case that I haven’t thought of!
I spent a few hours on Monday putting together a basic UI, instructions for the game (just some simple buttons and images), and a “plot” (you’re a scientist trying to prevent a pandemic) and the whole thing started to look like an actual game. On Monday afternoon we packaged the game, uploaded it to itch.io and submitted it to the Ludum Dare site – a few people have already tried it and left encouraging feedback.
I’m proud of what we managed to get done in a weekend (I think that our active time on the game was probably under 40 hours), and I’m tempted to add a bit more polish and release an updated version after Ludum Dare is finished. There’s a few things that would need changing, like trying to increase the replayability: at the moment, the grids are programatically generated – it would be interesting to generate levels based on a seed value (so different players could try the same level, and see who could solve it the fastest). Another improvement would be to calculate the optimal solution for each grid, so players could see how many steps over par they are.
Having spent a good few hours playing around in Unity, I’m very impressed with it – things that I expected to be tricky to implement were a lot easier than I anticipated, and being able to build for web, Windows, MacOS and Linux at the same time is excellent.
We’re definitely looking forward to the next Ludum Dare, but have decided to try and make a small game each month as a break from our big projects – it’ll give us a chance to try out random ideas without having to work out a long term plan for them. If everything goes to plan I’m going to document the process and share the results at thelab.wearecentrifuge.com.
Nathan has been wanting to take part in a Game Jam for quite a while – so when we saw that the Ludum Dare game jam was about to take place – and they were celebrating their 15th year – we decided we would give it a go this time.
Amazingly, as we are busy most weekends, this particular weekend everyone cancelled on us and we had an entire weekend to ourselves – we took this as A Sign and resolved to definitely try to make a game in just one weekend. We have never done this before so we thought it would be a great challenge and possibly fun 🙂
The first step was to vote on the possible themes on the LDJam website – these had already been posted by other users and game jam enthusiasts. The actual theme of the competition would be announced at 2am (UK time) on Friday night while we were sleeping. We were hoping that it would be “Keep it alive” as we’d thought of a really great idea for that – but when we stirred in the night and checked our phones we discovered that the actual theme was Small World.
We tried to go back to sleep and hoped we’d dream up a really good game idea before morning. We had a brainstorming session as soon as we woke and talked about what Small World could encompass:
there are already games out there already featuring small worlds that are fought over because they won’t fit everyone on
small world can also mean child-sized things
small world theory where everyone turns out to be connected to everyone else – could we make a game about that or would it just end up being too massive?
then, we had the brainwave that small world could also mean – microscopic!
That idea really got the cogs turning and we came up with superbugs – a game where you’re in a science lab and peer through a microscope at viruses in a petri dish. The aim of the game would be that you have to kill them off with combinations of drugs before they grow too big and become Superbugs – and resistant to ALL drugs.
We’d start with a few simple levels , where you just have to kill one virus with a drug of the same colour. This would be scaled up to many viruses – some needing multiple drugs and others needing colour combinations to kill them off.
As Nathan, our developer, is halfway through his first course on Unity – we thought we’d make the game in that. It seemed like a good way of testing his understanding so far!
Our first prototype was one petri dish containing the viruses – but it wasn’t very interesting and did not need a lot of skill. Also it was difficult to animate the viruses and get them to interact with each other.
Then Nathan came up with the idea of hexagonal cells – like a beehive – where each drug would affect the cells around the target one. This would make it into a proper puzzle game. It also allows for drug colours to be combined to make the other colours needed.
We didn’t have any access to sounds – so Nathan did the sound effects himself and recorded them to put them in the game. I especially like the “pop” as each virus explodes as it is eliminated by the correct drug combos!
One of the hardest parts of making the game so far is working out how to automate the production of each level to ensure that it is still solvable. They do it with Sudoku – so it must be possible!
Check back in a few hours for part two, where we’ll show how the game turned out and how you can play it!
First, before I begin this post -we have exciting news. As mentioned in a previous blog post we have a two-pronged approach to raising money for our new game development. Both seem to be going quite well, as today we were informed we had gone through to the second stage of the UK Game Fund application process! We are very pleased about that.
The other possible money-raising idea is now TOP SECRET – so can’t say much more about that at the moment. Keep checking the blog!
So, today’s topic is User Engagement. Now that we have a popular and fun game – how do we look after our players and keep them coming back day after day?
The nature of Interference is that nothing happens immediately. The players choose to draw or describe in a game that has many steps. So between 15 -33 are needed to complete each game. However – that makes it a strength – as we email the player to let them know when their game has finished. This means they will come back to see how their game ended up and how their own contribution affected the game outcome.
Another hook is that we allow other players to “like” individual drawings or descriptions, so that players will log back in or open the app to see how many likes they have got. Players can also comment on games once they are finished which helps to get the players engaged with each other.
We also provide a forum area – where we as the game devs can give updates and news on the game and future developments. It also means that any player can start a thread – related to the game or completely random. It had resulted in some interesting topics. There’s the “Where is everyone from” thread created by a player that gives us useful insight to all the countries where Interference is played.
They have even used the forums to make up their own word games such as “Last and First” which has been going for three years now! It really has reinforced Interference as not only a casual game – but a social one too.
It’s good to see the same players returning again and again. We want Interference to be addictive!
Obviously there have been minor incidents where there has been disrespect on the forums – but this is dealt with by the moderation system and players are warned that if they abuse the system they will lose the ability to post on there.
Recently Nathan and I went on a free PR course – run by a local media expert Nigel Howle, which we won as part of the perks of being a finalist in the Business Boost Awards. We try to take advantage of such opportunities – as we are on a start-up budget (i.e. zero!) and we love to learn!
One of the other participants were a local firm that make company videos and they advised us that a company will get much more engagement with their advertising and social media if they include a video. Apparently the ideal length is just 60 seconds – as not many people will keep watching after that.
That is why this year we have resolved to do a short weekly video update for Interference in 2017. That means that everyone will be able to see the people behind the games and maybe we will get some new players too. The only problem is that when the first one was due – we were both struck down with ‘flu! But, a resolution is a resolution – so we did the video anyway – in our pyjamas!
I’m sure you can find it if you look on Interference. Hopefully the next one will be a little more professional!!
We’d love to hear ideas from other game devs about how to engage players – get in touch!
The next blog will be about – how to get your games noticed and find new players!
We’re very excited here at Centrifuge as we have released our second game – Loose Vowels. Not only is it on Windows 10 but – by popular demand – it’s our first ever game on iOS!
So, where did the idea come from? There are a lot of word games out there and we LOVE them – but we wanted to make something a little bit different from the many Scrabble-type games or word searches out there.
As we are also fans of TV quizzes too, we love the final missing vowels round in Only Connect. Talking to friends and family who watch it we found that it was actually EVERYONE’s favourite part of the show.
That gave us an idea for a quick, casual game where we could make a Daily Puzzle with a theme and then make some much bigger puzzle packs in various categories that people could buy.
So, what we do is have a list of 10 words or phrases on a theme, take out the vowels and move the spaces around a bit. Then all the player has to do is solve the clue. These are the Daily Puzzles – here’s an example:
Deck the Halls
GN GR BRD
CN DYC NS
FRY LG HTS
Then for the actual puzzle packs , we made eleven categories, for example Animals, did 25 different topics, for example Poisonous Animals, Books about Animals etc. each with 25 puzzles in them. The first pack is free and the other 10 packs are 79p.
But, for players who don’t want to pay there is a new free Daily Puzzle every day! We thought that would get people coming back to the app everyday – increasing the ad revenue too.
We released it first on Windows 10 – but then lots of people were asking us to bring out an iOS version too so that they could play on their iPads. As we were intending to get Interference out on iOS soon, we thought making a smaller game like Loose Vowels first would give us some practice on iOS before tackling something REALLY big 🙂
Nathan finished the coding on Wednesday 21st December – and we submitted it to Apple at 13.40 that day. We weren’t sure if it would get through certification and into the store before Christmas – as Apple said they were taking a break between 23 -27 December. We kept checking the dashboard to see what was happening, with bated breath. Then at around 19.02 last night (22nd) – we had a message to say that Loose Vowels was in the iTunes store!
Thank-you, Apple – that’s a great Christmas present.
We went because our first game, Interference, was shortlisted for two awards – Most Original Game and Best Casual/Social Game – so we had to dress up!
We managed to find some where to stay (as it was going to be a late night!) just down the road from the venue. It was Commercial House – a kind of aparthotel – which was lovely! We especially liked the swans 🙂 It was easy to get dolled up and then walk the 3 minutes down the road to the venue.
The ceremony started at 6pm with a drinks and canapés reception. There was plenty of champagne and the smart staff circled guests with trays of tasty treats – the tiny ham and eggs were delicious, as was the smoked salmon.
When we got there we were assigned Table L, so we hung around there waiting to see who we would be sitting with. We got chatting to Gareth Wright from Double Eleven – the UK studio who reimagined Prison Architect for the Xbox and PS4 as well as making Goat Simulator for the Xbox last year!
We had a very interesting chat about prisons – as I used to work in a couple. Hopefully I gave him a few tips on what it’s like in the “inside” 🙂
Then we had to take out places at our tables so that the food could be served. We were sat with a couple of chaps from a technology tax company MMP – who were up for an award and staff from Spirit AI who make digital interactions between game characters and players “feel human”. They were handing out one of the awards.
There were bottles of beer, water and wine on the table and the first course was fillet of beef with baby baked potatoes and salad. It was very nice, although the chap sat next to me said “I thought that was a starter!” The dessert was delicious though – an individual lemon meringue pie. It was perfectly baked – no soggy bottom here and the top was beautifully browned and crisp. Yummy!
Then the nerve-wracking part began – the giving out of the awards. Well, to tell the truth we weren’t too worried – we knew we weren’t going to win over all the big companies in our categories. So many of the teams who went up on stage were huge – and we are just two people who make games in a home office!
The winner of most Original Game was The Assembly – a virtual reality game from nDreams and the Best Casual/Social Game was a motorbike racing game, Raceline CC by Rebellion. They both looked very impressive – congratulations to them. There were so many amazing games shown that we felt privileged to be sitting there with them! In fact Nathan’s Imposter Syndrome was kicking in bigtime! He’s going to write a post about that very soon – so look out for that one. Still it was fun to see Interference up on the huge TIGA screen when they showed our video!
After all the awards had been handed out and all the booze on the tables drunk – the party continued below in the Crypt. It was an amazing space, where a bar was up and running and there were sticks of TIGA rock liberally spread around.
We had a chat with a few of the winners and the TIGA staff as well as reconnecting with Gareth and others. It was a really good night and we were so happy to have been TIGA Finalists in our first year!
Another way to get yourself noticed and make interesting contacts is via awards. Before starting this company I had no idea that you could just nominate yourself for awards – but you totally can!
Start with your local area – does your local paper or Chamber of Commerce have a yearly awards event? There is usually a category for new businesses or small businesses or entrepreneurs – you’re bound to find one that you can fit in. Most are free to enter – they just need a bit of work and imagination on your part. The submissions are usually done via an online form which asks about your company, who works there, what you do and some will ask for financial information and forecasts.
Our local Business Boost Awards asked for a Business Plan too and offered a free course on how to write one. This was great – as I attended it and it made us actually get one written. These are useful for trying to get financial backing or a business loan down the line – so I was so happy to learn how to do a really good one. The course was actually run by an ex-bank manager – so he told us exactly what they look for when asked for loans by companies.
All that information for free!
So once you’ve submitted your application you have a few weeks of wondering when you’ll hear something. If you are new, a little bit different and interesting then you will stand a good chance of at least being chosen as finalists. We’ve discovered that have “Award Finalist” on your website and promotional literature is practically as good as “winner” Quite often you’ll get a ready-made logo to use wherever you want and you’ll be invited to the actual Awards Ceremony.
Our local paper’s Sentinel Business Awards don’t charge finalists or their guests for the event itself– as it is sponsored by other businesses – but usually you will have to pay, and they can be quite pricy. However, if you can afford to send a couple of staff (which is actually the whole company in our case!) then not only will you get lots of publicity but also have chance to meet other business owners and influential people in the business community. It’s all about the networking!
You may also get lots of coverage in your local press and even have a video made of your company and its operations to be shown on the night. You could get to keep the footage to use yourself too. So, it may be worth the cost of a fancy meal to get all this coverage and networking too.
You can also look out for awards in your own industry too – in our case computer games. It is worth having a look around. I wouldn’t bother with ones you have to pay to enter – but we have just tried for the TIGA awards, which has categories for Indie Games Studios like ourselves. We are just waiting to hear if anything comes of it… keep your fingers crossed!
UPDATE: We found out that we have been shortlisted for two awards – Most Original Game and Social/Casual Game! We are beyond excited!!
One of the problems with having a game that allows player-generated content is – you guessed it – trolls! In Interference We start with a description, then let a chain of players take turns to draw and describe – but each player can only see the previous step in the game. It won’t take long for the original message to get lost in translation and turn into something completely different (and hilarious!). Well – that’s how it’s meant to go!
Trolling takes many forms from being new and not sure what to do to just wilfully derailing the game – for example we recently had a troll who wrote and drew nothing but “Peeps” – in game after game. This annoyed many players who had been looking forward to how their games would turn out or wondered how the next person would describe their lovingly crafted drawing.
Now I do like Peeps – they’re marshmallow sweets from the USA, usually in the shape of chicks – but they were derailing every game.
This was quite a mild form of trolling – however, there are others where the words or pictures are totally obscene. This game is meant to be for players 16+ – even so, some of the pictures we have seen have ranged from child-like to actually talented and realistic depictions of genitalia and rude acts. Or as Nathan calls it “The Giant Schlong Problem”
Obviously we cannot be looking at what it being drawn every minute of the day and night (Interference is very popular in the USA and tends to be most busy when we are asleep.) So, how do we tackle trolls?
Firstly, we had to put in a Swear Filter – so that most obscene words could be caught and held for moderation before anyone saw them. That’s not so easy with pictures until we invent software that can recognise rude shapes and body parts. So, we have a reporting system – so that when a player is presented with a picture to describe – there is an opportunity to skip it and report it to the moderators. This will hold the item in a queue until either of us has time to have a look.
It is interesting because while some players will happily let something dodgy go through and describe it, others report things like a picture of someone smoking for example – because they do not like to see that sort of thing either! That makes it hard to try to think of players who will be good moderators. Which means that so far we do that job ourselves.
So, we need to check what the transgression is – and either let it go through – or delete it, restart that game and deal with the troll.
What happens to trolls when we catch them? In the first instance we send them a warning and ban them for 3 days. Quite often it can be a newbie who hasn’t understood how the game is played and what the rules are. If they behave after the first ban then all is well.
If it keeps happening again then the bans are for longer and longer– until a 1 year ban is put in place. Occasionally, when the trolling has been really bad and prolific (gross misconduct we call it) – then we go straight to the 1 year ban. This is when it is obviously deliberate and the troll is intentionally trying to ruin the game.
It can be quite nerve-wracking when, for example, we have been put forward for an award* and we know that judges will be looking at the game – it would be just typical if the first thing they had to describe was the aforementioned giant genitals. Arghhhh!
We are wondering about restricting new players to just being in 5 games until they have some likes from other players and we can see that they are well-behaved. Any helpful comments would be gratefully received! (No trolls please!)
*luckily when the TIGA judges tried Interference recently it must have been all good – as we are shortlisted for 2 TIGA awards!
Interference started as a side project back in 2010, which Nathan made for friends and family to play, whilst working as a freelance Microsoft Trainer. It really gained momentum in 2012 when Berni was diagnosed with cancer and Nathan gave up that job to look after her. There followed eight gruelling months of operations and treatment including chemo and 33 sessions of radiotherapy. While Berni slept off the radiotherapy sessions in the afternoons Nathan needed something to keep his mind occupied – so he decided to learn how to make apps. He watched some videos by Bob Tabor and produced a Windows 8 app version of Interference. As Windows 8 was new then, we were one of the first apps in the store and Nathan was given a certificate to say that he is one of the Windows Elite.
We also entered the app into Creative Bloq’s Windows 8 App Generator Competition. Happily, the game was chosen as one of the top ten apps, we attended the prize-giving event on the 7th February 2013 London’s Modern Jago .We won a Windows 8 Ultrabook, a Windows tablet and a Nokia Lumia 920 Windows phone. All very useful to test our future apps on! On top of this Interference was chosen to be on the front page of the store over Christmas 2012 – which helped us gain lots of new players.
However, as we both had full time jobs we could not devote much time to develop the game or interact with the players. We see now that this was a big mistake!
The problem was that bills had to be paid and Nathan was involved in setting up another company doing school apps. This took up all his work time – and much of our leisure time doing education trade shows and other events to promote them to the educational community. While we learnt a lot during the three years or so that we were actively involved with this, sadly our player base for Interference started to dwindle. Although we have over 35,000 registered players, there aren’t that many playing day to day. Now that we DO have the time to devote solely to Interference, we have to find ways to get these players back and also attract many, many more! So, what have we done so far? Over to Nathan:
The whole web site has been rewritten from scratch, and now should work much, much better on phones and tablets
New web drawing tool: the Flash drawing tool is gone, replaced by a shiny new HTML5/JS tool. In simple terms: it works on more devices, and tries to give players as much drawing space as possible (no more tiny canvas with loads of blank space around it). The number of colours has been reduced to 36 (so the palette isn’t so overwhelming)
Updated community page: The community page is a bit more useful now, showing things like the latest Picture of the Week.
Some new features are reserved for IFX Supporters. In return for helping us pay the bills, supporters get their usernames highlighted, and some other odds and ends. They’re also able to view any available drawing replays, whilst standard users are only able to watch replays for highlighted drawings like Picture of the Week.
Wait, did you say “watch replays”? Surprise 🙂 For the last few weeks we’ve been capturing how items are drawn, not just the finished thing. Click the orange replay icon next to a drawing and see exactly how it was done.
Written a completely new Windows 10 app – available soon in the app store.
Added in a whole new array of awards for players to achieve – to keep it interesting and help to hook players’ attention. (Yes – we have read Hooked by Nir Eyal http://tinyurl.com/hfrnm2y )
Thank-you Nathan! Please drop by and read our later blogs posts to see how we are getting on and what other skills and techniques we are using to get Interference noticed among the many games out there.