Blogs

Game Dev Workshops were a Success

Trevor teaching the Game Art Workshop

In association with the Galway Game Jam, we ran a three-day crash course in Game Development. The three days were spread out across three weeks, taking place in BOI's Workbench on Saturdays and covered art for games, Sound Design for games and finally, scripting using Unity 3D. The concept behind these workshops was to give absolute beginners an insight into the vast field of Gamedev and ultimately, to give them the skills necessary to take part in this month’s Galway Game Jam which takes place this Saturday, Aug. 27th in ThePorterShed.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended, it was awesome to be able to share our knowledge with you all.
 

 
Manus teaching everyone how to use Unity 3D
Steven teaching the Sound Design for Games Workshop
Manus teaching everyone how to code in C#
Steven teaching everyone how shaoe and design Sound Waveforms

DIY Game audio on a very tight Budget

Wallet clamped ShutIn the world of small studio Indie game development money is not exactly in abundance. In my experience the vast majority of your budget will be spent mostly on advertising/promotional materials like banners, business cards etc. With this in mind it’s clear to see that from within the barren wasteland of your Indie developer wallet, there are few funds left for expensive purchases like top class audio equipment or anything else for that matter. There are many studios who through some twist of fate or plain old soul selling have managed to secure millions of funding from investors but I can promise you, those Alchemists are few and far between. If you’re entering the games industry with the belief that you can make the games you want and still get millions of funding, you’re deluded. The truth is, in my experience, investors don’t care for games and as someone aptly put it to me “The games industry could go die in a fire for all they care!”. This may sound extreme but speaking from a certain level of experience now, I have to admit there is truth in that statement. Now that we’re all on the same page, I’ll go through how I, as a broke ass indie developer get through the day by making the best with the equipment I have around me, well, from an audio perspective at least.
First things first, extremely expensive audio equipment does not always yield extremely good results. You may think when setting out on your audio career that you absolutely need that €5,000.00 mixing desk, the two grand iMac, a €1000.00 Rhode shotgun Mic and those sweet €55,000.00 pair of Seinnheiser studio headphones to get the quality audio you need; again, hold up there, glance once more at the desolation that is your wallet/bank balance and you’re back down to earth.  
Now bear in mind that I’m not saying that good quality recording equipment doesn’t yield great quality audio. While expensive equipment may not necessarily make you a pro sound engineer by default, having good quality tools at your disposal can and will make your job considerably easier and can, in turn get you the results you want much more efficiently. However, again, speaking purely from personal experience, most indies don’t have the budget for that sort of equipment and so, it’s time for us to get creative and venture into the ever messy world of DIY sound effects.

Software
I discussed briefly how expensive equipment isn’t really an option but I forgot to mention software; yet another thorn in the side of the indie dev’s bank balance. Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software can be quite pricy for the audio beginner. A yearly subscription to Pro Tools right now will set you back about $300.00, a slightly fairer but still expensive option being the standard version of Ableton Live which will cost you €349.00 right now. Let’s be honest, 350 quid for a software package is just not an option, and do you really need such expensive software for starting out? If you’ve resolved that this is beyond your budget and no worries, there are so many awesome free, open source tools out there which can get you extremely good results. The first I’d like to mention is Audacity, it’s a free, open source audio recording and editing sweet which comes with loads of free effects and features. If you’re completely new to audio and want to dip your toe, go try audacity and be amazed at the stuff you can do with it. Next thing you may need is a full-featured DAW with virtual instruments and MIDI controller support to compose your own music; well, you’re in luck, there’s a great suite called Reaper which is free to try for 60 Days and after which your expected to purchase a license but you may continue using it for personal projects regardless.  I cannot stress how awesome Reaper is; it’s a fully professional, feature rich audio production suite available for next to nothing.  The only thing you need now are some VSTs/VSTIs (Virtual Instruments) so you can start making music and effects well guess what, there are free alternatives for that also. The main sites I’ve used for sourcing my instruments are VST4FREE and DSKMusic, both of which have a ton of useful effects and instruments available for free and the best part, Reaper supports these.

Hardware
Zoom H1 Handy RecorderYou’ll notice I haven’t touched on PCs but I’m assuming that if you’re part time dev, part time audio guy like me, you probably already have some sort of half (or quarter)-decent machine for that anyway; if not, how are you reading this?
Ok so software is easy enough to keep the cost low on, Google is full of free solutions to your audio software problems but I’m afraid hardware is where you’ll have to bite the bullet a little. Unless you live in some sort of blissful utopia where audio equipment is freely available and money’s no object, I’m afraid there’s no way out of a little expense. My advice in this field is to assess your budget and most importantly “Buy well, buy once!”. In order to know what you need, it’s helpful to know what you would like to achieve. For me, I wanted to record some sound effects using objects so I needed some sort of recorder; I was lucky enough to have over a hundred euro burning a hole in my pocket at the time so I bought the cheapest recorder I could afford, the Zoom H1 handy recorder. The H1 is a fantastic little device for the price. It has two condenser mics that pick up full stereo audio and can even record at relatively high sample rates. If you need a small portable recorder that can yield good quality results, save up and splash on the H1, it’s not perfect but it’s a great starter piece of kit.
 
 
 

HDTZ HT81 Shotgun Microphone
Secondly, you may want to focus on very specific areas when recording audio, for this you need a shotgun mic and these can be expensive depending on what you’re looking for.  If you just want something basic but directional, ebay may or may not be your best friend. There are some Chinese shotgun mics you can pick up for less than 30 quid if you’re really stuck. The two models you’ll find on there are unbranded mics that go by the models HDTZ HT81 and HDTZ HT320a. Both of these mics take a single AA battery for power and come with an XLR to 3.5mm cable. Do not connect these mics to a phantom power source as I’m not certain they can handle the 48V and may end up dying on you; the only power they need is provided by the battery.  I’m not saying these are professional mics but you can get some very decent results with some good setup and mic technique.
Last but not least, you may want to record some dialog or vocals, in which case you’ll need a phantom powered condenser mic to get that rich vocal quality. Again, these can be somewhat expensive but if you’re starting out and are looking for something cheap and cheerful, Ebay has a few solutions. There are unbranded condenser mics you all over ebay and amazon entitled the BM800 sometimes with the name, Shengyue on them. These can cost anything from €15-€30 depending on how hard you look. Don’t spend any more than €25 on one of these mics as there are many more reputable brand mics available for around the €50-€60 mark like the Behringer C-1 and if you have the money I would say go with the Behringer. Shengyue BM800 Microphone

However, this aside, the BM800 is a nice little mic to play around with. They usually come with a shockmount, foam windshield and an xlr to 3.5mm cable. Now a word of warning, this is a phantom powered mic and as such, plugging it directly into your pc’s mic port won’t work well at all. This mic needs to be powered before you’ll start hearing anything audible from it. To fix this you can buy a mini 48v Phantom power unit on ebay or amazon that will give you the voltage you need, just look around and you’ll find some dirt cheap units out there.  Bear in mind you’ll also need a female to male xlr cable also to plug the mic into the power unit and then use the provided cable to plug the unit into your PC.
Last but not least, you may need some extras such as deadcats(windshields), popshields, shockmounts and mic stands. Again you can find some great affordable things on ebay as long as you’re willing to wait the minimum 3 weeks for delivery from China. My tip for finding great deals on ebay is to search the item’s name, set the sorting to “Lowest first” and then on the left sidebar, check “Free Postage”. You should now have a list of extremely cheap results from China. If you’re ever in doubt of the product’s quality or effectiveness, look for reviews of it on youtube and then judge whether or not it’s for you.  



Special equipment
Our studio is currently working on a deep sea action adventure game called Sub-Species in which you pilot a submarine exploring the deepest trenches of the world’s oceans. With this came some interesting challenges; one of which was the need for underwater/water sounds. After searching online for some solutions I discovered that I needed a hydrophone, but they were too expensive for me at the time. Not one to give up I started to Google how to make a diy one and found some great stuff that pointed me in the right direction. In the end I bought some Piezo discs on ebay along with a 25ft stereo cable and build my own by soldering them together and sealing the mic inside a film canister using 2-part epoxy resin. This was messy work but after I had it built, I had a fully functional hydrophone for less than €10.00, as opposed to the hundred I could have paid for one.

DIY Hydropone
I’ve played around with the mic by filling a bath and dipping the hydrophone into it, then recording the result by plugging the mic into the H1, the results weren’t half bad:

 




 Conclusion
Long story short, indie game development is underfunded and difficult, but where funding stops, creativity begins. Many would turn their nose up at the concept of using a microphone purchased on ebay or built by themselves, but such people are, in my opinion missing the point slightly. To quote an overstated but ever truthful statement “It’s not about the cost but rather it’s about choosing the right mic for the job!”.  If you’re starting out in the audio field and haven’t a lot of money, I’d say experiment. You don’t have the option of expensive tools right now so why not buy what you can and build what you need. You may surprise yourself.
 
(P.S.: If anyone knows of how to get a decent quote for audio equipment in Ireland, please let me know; I have emailed everywhere in the country and nowhere seems interested in providing one.)  
Twitter: @Occivius
Email: stevenKelly@howlinghamster.com
 

Influences (ripping off old games)

 (Warning: The following article was written to entertain rather than to offend. However we acknowledge that it contains language and views that some may find objectionable. Reader discretion is advised.)

 

 

So as part of this series of blogs I’ve been asked to contribute something in regards to the visual development of our game Sub-Species. Now I could spend the next few paragraphs prattling on about creature and environment design, polygon counts, high resolution textures and the like. Instead of all that turgid crap, I’m going to tell you about two of the many games that have influenced the look and gameplay of our current project. Allow me to introduce you to a couple of Megadrive classics, Ecco the Dolphin and Sub-Terrania.

Its not better down where its wetter.

 

Ecco the Dolphin is a difficult game to describe. It doesn’t fit neatly in to any genre or category. At a time in the early 90s when every game was the next Sonic or Street Fighter, Ecco was that rarest of things; original.

 

The games story begins with Ecco playing happily with his family doing... dolphin stuff, mostly swimming I’m guessing. When suddenly a freak storm violently pulls Ecco's family and the other surrounding life into the sky.

 

As the story unfolds it dawns on you that the plot is a work of insane, psychoactive substance fuelled genius. This game is a towering middle finger to reality, and is all the better for it.

 

For example, during his quest Ecco is asked by a creature that resembles a double helix D.N.A. strand, to go to Atlantis and use their time machine (because of course they have a time machine) to travel back in time to the Jurassic period where this happens.

 

Screenshot from Ecco the Dolphin.

Fuck you Reality!”

 

Yes, that’s a time travelling dolphin using a pteranadon as a hang glider. Why this amazing image wasn’t used as the basis for a spectacular piece of box art still remains a mystery to me.

Game play consists of exploring mazes, solving puzzles and using short bursts of speed to ram enemies. About halfway through the game, Ecco's sonar becomes a much needed projectile weapon, turning you in to an underwater version of Banshee from the X-Men comics.

 

Image of Narwhal.

Unfortunately, underwater Wolverine never made it in to the game”

 

The collective hallucination that is this game starts to turn weird (sorry, weirder) towards its conclusion. It turns out aliens called the Vortex are behind the storms and the disappearance of Ecco's family. They have a taste for sea food, and dolphin is on the menu.

Ecco fights his way through the Alien infrastructure called “The Machine” which looks like a journey through the work of swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger (seriously it looks amazing). This culminates in a battle with the giant disembodied head of the Vortex Queen. To defeat her you must SCREAM AT HER EYES UNTIL THEY EXPLODE.

 

Enjoy your Nightmare”

 

 

Defeating the Queen ends the Vortex threat and returns Ecco and his family to Earth.

So that’s Ecco the Dolphin. Give it a go, its like nothing you have ever played. Both it and its equally bat shit crazy sequel, The Tides of Time (Where you travel forward in time to a point where dolphins have evolved wings) are well worth tracking down.

Harder than an Aroused Robot

 

If a Dolphin that commits Genocide isn’t your thing (and why wouldn’t it be?) then perhaps Sub-Terrania may be for you. Sub-Terrania is a shooter, but unlike a lot of the mindless shoot-em-ups that proliferated the Megadrive at the time, it has elements of puzzle solving and strategy that made it stand out from its contemporaries.

The game was nicely polished with some really impressive music and graphics, but the thing that stuck with me the most was its punishing difficulty. This games threshold for mistakes is lower than the Vatican City's age of consent.

 

Image of the Vatican City.

Until quite recently it was twelve”

 

 

Like a twelve year old in the Vatican you’ll be under threat from all directions, but your biggest danger comes from the gravity that is constantly pulling your ship down. To counter the gravitational pull you use your ship's thrusters, but this eats away at your fuel. Resupplying fuel and health can be done but supplies are limited, knowing when to and when not to stock up are key to success.

 

Luckily there is a map screen to help you out, but this game isn’t interested in helping you, it wants to dick with you. The map appears once before the start of each level. You have no way of seeing it during the game, you know, when you need it.

Just look up the map on the internet” or “Take a picture of the map with your phone” I hear you say. Remember, we're playing this in 1993. The Internet only exists in the occasional episode of Tomorrows World (ask your parents) and the smartest thing in the room is not your phone, its you, and that’s why your fucked.

 

Two options; burn it to your memory or develop cartography skills”

 

Everything in this game will either damage or kill you outright. Obvious stuff like aliens shooting crap in all directions and robots that punch you out of the sky. Then there is the not so obvious. Like coming into contact with any walls in the cave your flying around in, this will damage your ship at an alarming rate. Running out of fuel, that will kill you. Little bouncy bastard robots that deliberately push you into the walls, instant death.

 

Image from Sub-Terrania on the SEGA genesis.

Oh, the triple conjoined floating murder head, that’s also on the 'avoid' list”

 

So Sub-Terrania is nine levels of punishing gameplay. It dispenses with any password or save system, because that would be verging on helpful, remember this game doesn’t like you and wants you to suffer.

Saying all that though, its a really fun game to play. Completing a level feels incredibly rewarding, as you know nothing came easily. Finishing the game however instils a sense of smug, self satisfaction usually reserved for completing the Portal games.

For more information about the Ecco series, head to somecallmejonny's YouTube channel. His review here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBInc6kp5iI is well worth checking out.

And for a display of flying skill usually reserved for Red Arrow pilots, you should take a look at this amazing Sub-Terrania speed run race from SpeedDemosArchiveSDA;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WE5gc2jY8E proving that everything looks easy when you know how.

 

(Image credits: YouTube)

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the collective views or opinions of Howling Hamster Games.)

On The Road Again!

This week saw 2/3 of Howling Hamster pack their machines into the car and hit the road to Dublin. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to be the official partners to Student-Talks, a national conference series for students and early career professionals. So we got to show off Sub-Species and Goldbeard’s Quest to about 300 students from all around the country and both games received a great reception. We have been tampering with the movement of the submarine lately, adding drift to its movement when you change direction and were worried about how players would receive the changes but everyone that tried the game really like the way the controls felt. We also got to roll out Goldbeard chest again with everyone at Student talk getting a key to try and open it. Just like Akumakon, it took most of the day before Soraya found the right key and won the bottle of wine locked inside.

 

 

 

Meanwhile back in the Hamster Cage, Trevor spent the week creating a new monster and working on getting the terrain fully polished. With our new aim to have a new demo for you all to try ready next month we are thinking of getting a cot for him to sleep at the office. With a new demo on the horizon we've been talking about how we should go about getting YouTubers to do playthroughs. We will be reaching out to the awesome legends that covered our demo we had last year during our Greenlight campaign OverworldTNTPig, Anxious Cynic, TheHysteriaMan, Kintinue, SDSK and JosNitros to name but a few.

While we’d love to get as many playthroughs as we can we are one again faced with the mystery of how to successfully contact YouTubers. While doing some research on this last week I came across a short, simple and excellent blog by Xavier Sythe:

What You Need To Know About YouTube Coverage - In 30 Seconds

(Definitely worth a look)


So if anyone has any tips, or if you're a YouTuber or know any YouTubers you think might be interested in doing a play through of Sub-Species please feel free to contact us and let us know.

Hey look, another deadline!

It's been a month since the release of our first mobile game, Goldbeard's Quest but it hasn't been all dwarven heroics and treasure hoarding. Making Goldbeard was fun, it was a welcome break from PC development and it's great to be able to say we have a product on the market, but focus has finally shifted back to our main project, Sub-Species (previously entitled “Trench”).

Though we took the Winter months to re-develop Goldbeard's Quest, we spent much of this time also planning our next steps with development of Sub-Species. In May last year, after 43 days of being on Steam, Sub-species finally got greenlit and this was a huge deal for us. This was in no doubt due to the fact that we had a publicly available 2 level demo which also got a few decent playthroughs from some youtubers at the time. Since then, we made the decision to take down the demo as we began to overhaul the control scheme and graphics. We've spent a long time without an available demo of the game as we feel that the previous build is now but a poor reflection of the game in it's current, more developed state.

 
Person using game controller

The true dark Art!

The world of Game marketing is a universe away from that of game development and those who call programming “A dark art” have clearly never compared it to the mysterious craft of successful game marketing. As three Game developers, we are novices to the marketing side and have only the limited experiences of other, similar developers to go on. Video games are different than almost every other tech product out there. In the world of tech products that focus on the solution of some problem and to “make the world a better place”, games simply don't fit in. Video games do not exist to solve any great problem, but they do serve to solve one very particular issue faced by millions worldwide; the need for entertainment. It's not the goal of the average game developer to “make the world a better place” but it is our duty to make it a more fun, engaging place to live. All this being said, there's no point in making a fun, awesome game that no one's ever going to see. With this in mind, as developers we've started to consider ways of getting the word out about Sub-species and have been researching video game publishers to see what they can do for us in the way of getting our game noticed. As a result of this we've made a plan to have a really polished second demo that we can show to people and give them a sense of what the finished product will look and play like, that is our primary goal right now, to have this ready sometime in the coming months. Due to our limited resources and ever contracting timeframe, we were not able to make GDC this year however, our head coder, Manus will be heading to EGX Rezzed in London this April and we aim to have something new and awesome for him to show there, all going well.

 
Road ahead!

We have a busy few months ahead of us but the plans have been set and the first mile of the road ahead is visible right now at least. Stay tuned for updates and keep an eye out for that new demo that we know people will enjoy playing.

 

User feedback – Where to get it and when to ignore it

So you're making a game and if you're anything like us that means you spend most of your time locked away in a room plugged directly into a game engine and mainlining coffee, and this is good and how it should be. But we've found that eventually you find yourself looking at your work wondering if it really is a good as you think it is or are you to close to it to judge it objectively, or have you possibly lost it completely and your ideas have now descended into the incoherent rantings of a lunatic.

As I will assume you are all aware, charter 1, page 1 of marketing your indie game is to build a community as you develop and to this end you will need to be posting your new concept art and videos on Facebook and Twitter as often as you can.

Here are a few of our favourite Facebook groups the we like to post about Sub-Species on.

  • Galway Games Development

  • Indie Game Developers

  • Irish Game Dev

  • Indie Game Developers ~Sunshine~

These are excellent avenues to get feedback and help keep you focused, but even these cannot stave of the demons of doubt that lurk at your shoulder eyeing up every new piece of artwork or game play mechanic that you come up with. I'm afraid to say that at this point there is only one thing to do, make a playable build of whatever you have, get out of the room and let people play it.
 

We're really lucky to have a vibrant Game Dev community here in Galway, Goblins and Grottos, Darkside Detective, TerraBoxman Begins, One Last Sunset and Runes Of Aran are just some of the games that are currently being made by local developers, and recently Romero Games has relocated to our little corner of the world. There's a meet up arranged every month for people to show off demos, share ideas and experiences or just have a few drinks and a laugh. This is a great place to start letting people try out your game, in our experience any critical feedback you do get is always constructive. So if you don't know about the local dev meet up in your area get out there and find it and if there isn't one, look for other local devs, they're out there and start one. You are not alone.

For us the next step with Sub-Species was making a working polished looking demo and trailer that to submit to Greenlight. For the first time we are showing your game to people that didn't know or care about us or the game. The players , the future customers and some of them love to let you know just how much they hate your game. It took me a full day to get over the first brutally negative comment that we received about Sub-Species on Greenlight, I was really surprised at how much it upset me. It wasn't until a wise man I know told me, everybody is entitled to their option their just not entitled to be right, that I started cheered up. Our experience with Greenlight was pretty similar to a lot of others we have heard about, great traffic and votes for the first 3 days and then you fall of the first page and its as if your game has been sucked into a blackhole, there is more life on Mars than on the second page of Greenlight.

 

We decided to try and generate traffic by attending gaming nights and conventions. We starting at a local weekly gaming event, The Galway Gaming Tribe, they are mostly about board game but also run Street Fighter and league of Legends nights. This got us used to talking to people about our game, not as easy as it sounds and something that everyone needs to get used to. After that we when to Gaming and Anime conventions around the country, including Brocon and Akumakon, IT fairs like Synapse and the Galway Science and Technology Festival, basically anyone that would have us, getting more and more people to try the game. We found this where we got the best feedback. Also got to see some of the greatest cosplayers ever.

    

It's easy to tell if someone likes the game, they're the ones that don't put the controller down and even come back later for a second go. On the other hand if someone tries the game and leave the control down after a minute and walks away quietly then you can be pretty confident they have not been won over. You will probably be tempted to run after them and asked they what they didn't like but just remember you can't please everyone and you will destroy your game if you try, so as long as you have enough of the players that don't put the controller down you'll be OK. It's the next day when you get back to the room and plug back in that you will have the pleasant and unexpected surprise of finding that you will be working with a completely renewed vigour and enthusiasm. As bad as the negative comments can be, I promise you'll be amazed at how good it feels to see someone smiling as they become completely engrossed in something that you have made. So don't deny yourself this, get your ass out there.

Return of a Hero!

An old foe from Goldbeard's Quest. Remaking the game & releasing in January 2016 on the Play Store.

Goldbeard Dragon animation gif.