…I can’t get no sleep…
The latest public showing of Fragmental happened a few weeks ago in Edinburgh, at Insomnia Scotland. Traditionally these large scale LAN party events take place in Birmingham, but for the first time it has branched out and this was the inaugural event in Scotland.
Insomnia Scotland – Edinburgh EICC
The event started for me on the Friday night, when I finished work then headed home to Edinburgh to what I thought would be a very quick setup, test, then off to the pub for a beer. What should have taken half an hour, took 3 and a half hours. After spending the first 15 minutes in almost total darkness, it turned out the wireless Xbox One pads decided they had no intention of binding to the PC. One change of wireless adaptor later, still no joy. The tech guys from Multiplay Events then tried it on their PC. Nope. In the end, the fallback was to go with wired pads, which is no real problem, just having wires everywhere is a bit of a nightmare and a trip hazard. And OCD hell for anyone so afflicted…
No beers were had that night.
Halfway through the day, comedian and host of Videogame Nation, John Robertson, wandered by our booth. He was performing his show, The Dark Room that night, and I’d already promised to go to his show in the evening if he played Fragmental (despite the fact I already had tickets. Shhh…). Fair enough, if I must go and see one of the best comedy shows of the last few years, then I’ll take that one for the team! He was immediately good at the game, and full of praise for it, and I’m inclined to think he meant it and wasn’t just being nice. As he wrote on Twitter…
He also went one further and at the end of his show that night, in a packed auditorium, told everyone they should go and play Fragmental on day 2. Cheers Robbotron!
Overall the first day went well, with myself, Dave and Alex on hand to help fill any spare slots to ensure all games had the maximum 4-players. We had always expected Fragmental to be a post-pub game, for people who remember these kinds of games from the 90’s, but surprisingly there were a lot more children playing the game and loving it. And a lot of parents who opted to just stand back and watch. (I took this to mean they were too scared to get beaten by their kids. Which to be fair, did happen quite a lot)
At the end of the day, Dave and Alex headed back to Dundee, leaving me to chat to some of the cosplayers, watch The Dark Room, and totally ignore Craig from We Throw Switches who was apparently waving for about a minute and like a blind idiot I never noticed. After that I headed off to the Beltane after party, which is a bit of an Edinburgh institution. I’ll not attempt to explain it all here, but as expected it went on until 5am, at which point I thought I should probably call it a night. Or morning…
Many, many beers were had that night.
The doors open time of 10:30 came and went on day 2, but nobody appeared. For a good half hour I thought this might be the most awkward disaster ever for an expo, then one of the organisers mentioned that there had been a brief power cut overnight, causing all of the competition PC’s to reboot then start windows updates. Pfffft! So they had to delay the opening to the public for an hour, which was a nightmare for the organisers, but quite funny otherwise.
Instead of Dave & Alex, who cleverly wanted to have at least some of their weekend to themselves, I was joined on the 2nd day by Billy, eager to show off his digital baby. The attendance was visibly lower today, but we still had a steady stream of people wanting to play Fragmental, including many returning for 2nd and 3rd games. My personal highlight was a girl of about 7 turning to her dad and proclaiming that he had to buy it because it was amazing. I agreed completely, which pretty much decided the issue, lest he look like a bad parent.
It wasn’t the biggest show in the world, but Insomnia Scotland had a good atmosphere, lots of good games on show from the past 4 decades, and plenty of kids playing indie games and not just Minecraft (although the area with rows of children all silently hooked up to Minecraft was an ultra creepy sight). Hopefully it returns next year, bigger and better!
An acceptable amount of beers were had that night. 😉
At this point in time, I think we’re pretty satisfied that we have a game that is fun, accessible and addictive. What we need to do know is get this thing finished and in the hands of the journalists! Until we have AI in and working (coming soon in the next update), we’re somewhat limited in the coverage we can get, as it is simply not a fully finished game experience yet, especially for the solo player. That said, media coverage is something we need to think about well in advance, and on that note, we got our first, albeit brief, write-up…
Stuart Cullen from The Scottish Sun took a few soundbytes from us at the show, and we made it into his final write-up. I was going to crop the image to just include our bit, but that would deprive you of the chance to win one of 20,000 holidays from Walkers…
I’ve spent the best part of a week out and about showing off Fragmental at various events. Here’s a roundup of each:
Epic Unreal Engine 20th birthday event
Epic Games recently celebrated the 20th birthday of their much used Unreal Engine. To mark this, they held an event at the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, where they wanted to have a room showing off a number of different third party games currently in development, that are built using UE4. We were happy to oblige (even though it meant a 7:30am flight followed by the sleeper train back the same night!).
The day started badly, as after about 4 hours sleep, I managed to cut myself shaving for the first time in about a decade. It was one of those where it’s the tiniest knick, but within seconds it looked like a scene from CSI. One plaster later and I look like I’m auditioning for Shenmue 3. Still surely it’ll be fine by the time I get to London.
It did indeed stop. Then started again 5 minutes before the invited attendees were due to arrive. The only option to avoid looking like I’d been stabbed in the neck was to ask the catering staff for a plaster. Anyone who has worked in catering will know what comes next…
A bright blue chef’s plaster. Amazing. So I had to spend the first half hour talking to people looking like an idiot. Well, even more than usual.
UK Games Fund showcase
We were lucky enough to be selected as one of the companies to receive funding in the first round of grants from the UK Games Fund, and this event was a showcase for all selected companies to demo the games they had used this money to fund. While we were only set up for an hour and a half, as much as anything it was useful to meet the other dev teams to swap stories and make new connections. as well as catch up with old friends and colleagues.
EGX Rezzed 2016
We took the decision not to show Fragmental off at Rezzed. This was for a number of reasons, but chief among those was that it freed us up to spend the entire show with three main goals:
1) Attend talks & presentations, learn from those that have more experience in making successful indie games
While a lot of the talks were aimed more at startup companies, maybe embarking on their first project, one talk stood out as a must-attend for us – Mike Rose from TinyBuild talking about their approach to community building and Twitch integration. This was not something we had given much thought to before now, but what Mike had to say made a huge amount of sense, and his attitude towards taking small risks for potentially large rewards was refreshing and compelling to hear. We managed to grab him after his talk for a chat, and gave him a steam code for Fragmental, so it will be interesting to see what he thinks of it!
2) Making contacts that will help us further down the line when it comes to marketing, selling & publishing Fragmental
Through direct contact, and contact by association (talking to people, who then passed our details on), we successfully managed to get connections with the major platform owners, as well as a number of publishers and social media sites. Chief among these were the guys from Machinima who were a great bunch of guys and always up for a laugh.
3) Research what other developers were doing in the indie game scene
The sheer variety of games on show was impressive, though melee based multiplayer arena battlers seemed to be the most prominent. Just as well we went with a shooting based game then! Over the three days of the show, we tried to play as many as we could, and here’s a review of our combined favourites:
Super Arcade Football – This is without doubt the spiritual successor to Sensible Soccer (though the actual successor, Sociable Soccer is also in production). The first game we played on day one, and it remained our favourite for the entire show. We must have played about 20 games of it. 11-a-side, indoor 5-a-side, and it seems everything we asked about is already in their development plans. This deserves to sell so many copies…
Raging Justice – I was a huge side scrolling beat-em-up fan in the 90’s, and went straight past Rocket League and Quantum Break in the Microsoft room to play on this. Turns out its being coded by one guy (take a bow Nic Makin) in his spare time evenings & weekends, with help from 1 artist! There are clear inspirations in here from Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon & maybe most prominently, Vendetta. If anything, it looks even smoother on iOS. Insanity! Those of you who have read my blogs will now realise this is an absolutely perfect segway to allow me to use that meme of Jackie Chan that I use in all my posts. As its too easy here, I’ve decided not to bother.
Snake Pass – The result of an internal game jam at Sumo Digital, and only 3 months of development time, I didn’t expect much as it looked like a run-of-the-mill 3D platformer. However the snake movement physics felt really satisfying as you navigated the scenery. Its something that can only be appreciated by actually getting hands on with the game, so if you get a chance, give it a go.
Manual Samuel – Initially I dismissed this as it wasn’t much to look at graphically, but its one of the few games that can actually make you laugh. You control a man back from the dead, who has to navigate a day in his life with all involuntary body processes now requiring voluntary input. So if you forget to breath periodically, you will die. If you forget to blink, the screen will fade to white. You need to keep your spine straight. Left and right steps are on different buttons (so a simpler version of QWOP). Simple processes like drinking a cup of tea, showering, or getting dressed all require thought and dexterity.
I know, it sounds terrible, but it actually somehow works.
Fugl – Hidden away in the Sega Leftfield room for slightly more unusual games, I found this gem. Despite thinking it had an awful name, I’ve since found out it means ‘Bird’ in Norwegian, which kind of makes sense as the developer, Johan Gjestland, is Norwegian. Still. A more interesting name couldn’t hurt… This is exactly the kind of experience I want from VR, and playing it on an Oculus was a beautiful experience – Diving through the clouds, skimming along a river, swooping between trees. Yeah, I’m sold. After this I didn’t feel like I needed to join the frankly ridiculous queue’s to try any of the other VR games.
Scanner Sombre – While only a very early tech demo from Introversion (the guys behind the great Prison Architect), Scanner Sombre was an eerie, experience. Set in pitch black, you have a scanner that shoots out hundreds of tiny dots of light. Wherever it hits something physical, it sticks to it. Through this method, you can effectively paint the world. The creepyness comes from when you realise there are human figures around you, but you don’t know if they are real, statues, or echoes. I’m not sure what they plan to eventually do with this, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for it.
Lumo – This kind of feels like I’m shilling for a friend, but Lumo is genuinely a great game. Tons of in-jokes / homages / references to games from the past, and a charming graphical style. What’s not to like? Though if all you ever play is COD or Fifa, maybe its not the game for you.
One final thing I have to do is apologize to Dara O’Briain. Yes, the Dara O’Briain from TV and comedy. As we were getting ushered out at 6pm with the rest of the scruffy people, the tuxedo and dress brigade were arriving for the Bafta game awards. Without realising I managed to wander into shot behind Dara while he was being interviewed on the red carpet for Sky news. Having watched it now, I noticed a clear moment where the camera pans away from where I was. Oops.