Prisonscape Alpha 1

Hello!

We started alpha testing in the beginning of August, and soon we’ll be releasing Alpha 2. You can follow alpha and general discussion here.

We’re still accepting alpha testers, please only apply if you don’t mind testing a half-finished game. Send email to contact@heaviestmatter.com for info.

EGX Rezzed 2015 and development news

Pekka will be hitting the road again to show Prisonscape at Rezzed. This year Rezzed will be held at Tobacco Dock, London, UK.

We won’t have a stand there but Pekka can show you a quick demo on his laptop. The reason we don’t have stand is that we feel the game is still in really early alpha stages and it doesn’t have all the features (and polish!) we want to show off. It is getting there, though.

On that note, we discussed earlier that how should we demo Prisonscape in a live setting? It’s not a flashy action or platformer game, some of the game is fairly slow paced where you talk to NPCs and think on how to solve a quest. One solution is that we make a short scenario where the character already has some skills and levels, and then we put you in a tough situation, e.g. you need to solve certain quests in 10 turns or else the character is put in solitary confinement. That’s one idea… do you guys have any suggestions?

As for development, recently I finished saving and loading for Prisonscape. Sounds pretty mundane, but it makes testing the game faster as you don’t have to start over again and again and tell Danny to “Fuck off” (Danny is first NPC you talk to in the game). Now I’m putting in the sweet UI graphics David finished a while ago, and also implementing character levels and experience.

We originally tried to a design where character progress was mostly hidden from the player, but Pekka noticed that the game then lacked a sense of accomplishment, which is really important in RPGs. So now we have “the standard” design of levels and experience: you level up and then put points to stats. Skill training is done by using the skills (e.g. fighting), and also using trainers in the weekly menu, which appears when the current turn (week) ends.

Alright, that’s that for now. Gotta get back to coding ->

Summerscape

Hello!

I’ll be talking about our future plans and some tech stuff in this post.

It has been going slow for the past month, mainly because Pekka and I have been on vacation. Add some nice summer weather and there hasn’t been much progress. I’m certain our productivity will return to normal levels when the weather gets shittier, which should be in approx. one month. ūüėÄ

We were originally planning to go to the Gamescom and Eurogamer conferences, but the game is still quite “alpha” so we decided to just save that time and keep working on the game. There aren’t that many game mechanics missing however. Combat and trading are the major ones (combat version 1 is already done), after those I think we won’t be adding new major features to the game. Minor ones we can add during alpha and beta testing. Replacing the “programmer UI” also needs to be done soon, David did some pretty sweet graphics for the new UI.

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People who pre-ordered Prisonscape have been asking about the alpha testing and our response has been that we’ll deliver the first alpha when the major components are in the game. Not to worry, when we’re ready we’ll contact all who pre-ordered and have access to the alpha.

As for programming stuff, I’ve been implementing an OpenGL based renderer as my latest task. I was originally trying to just use Java 2D, but it didn’t cut it. I realized this when I bought a new laptop with “ok” specs, and the game’s FPS started going all over the place. There should be no reason why a game like Prisonscape couldn’t run at 60FPS all the time, so after digging and debugging for a while I decided to learn and implement OpenGL.

After a few days I got the basic rendering working and man, it’s smooth now. The Java 2D renderer used to skip and glitch even on my beefy desktop PC, but now it scrolls beautifully. I’m fairly certain Pekka doesn’t even recognize the difference, but I saw it immediately. Apparently programmers (esp. graphics) get this thing where they notice every little detail and glitch because they stare at the screen and animations constantly.

Also, JOGL (the OpenGL framework I’m using) implements V-Sync in windowed mode which saved my ass because apparently you could only get that in Java2D in full-screen mode. I don’t think I’ll implement a full-screen mode for Prisonscape unless there’s great demand for it.

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Implementing OpenGL also sets some minimum computer requirements for Prisonscape. Your graphics card should support OpenGL 2 and 1024×1024 textures. That’s the minimum I’m coding for and that should cover a huge chunk of laptops and desktops. I was originally gunning for OpenGL 1, but it seems the support has been dropped from JOGL. ūüėÄ No wonder, the OpenGL 1.1 spec is from 1997.

Of course changing the graphics context broke something else in the game. I had implemented our video cutscenes with JavaFX and it seems JOGL and JavaFX don’t work well with each other. A little note on those video cutscenes: I originally tried to render them as just full-sized .PNG files, which turned to be really stupid. Memory consumption quickly jumped to 1GB during the intro cutscene – apparently it isn’t a smart idea to render uncompressed PNG data. To solve this, I encoded the intro animation as a .flv file, but JavaFX only supports VP6 encoded .flv files, so I had to dig up a trial version of some Adobe software to encode it properly. Side note: Google owns the VP6 codec, but they don’t offer new licenses for it, so who knows if you can actually even use VP6. Hopefully I can find a library which can playback Ogg Theora (.ogv/.ogg) files in a JOGL context (jmcvideo seems promising) so I don’t have to hack some custom made video playback system together.

Seeing all this technical work and the troubles it brings one might ask “WHY DON’T YOU USE UNITY????” and my answer is that I’m planning to be a highly skilled game/graphics programmer ten years from now, and in my opinion you don’t lay a foundation for your skills by using Unity or any other game engine. The reason John Carmack and Tim Sweeney are so good is that they put in the time to do the low level work of building game engines (and also because they had to). Yeah, it’s slow, painstaking and financially not so sound. But if you commit to it and do the work properly, the rewards will come in due time.

Aaaand that’s that. See you later!

Kickstarter post-mortem

So the Prisonscape Kickstarter didn’t succeed. It was a good run, and we¬†had plenty of coverage from the press and at least people now know about¬†Prisonscape. What comes to reasons for the campaign failing, I really¬†can’t pinpoint any single thing, but here are some of my guesses:

  • We didn’t have a demo or enough gameplay in the KS video. Some of the¬†bigger sites were asking for a build. It’s not given that they’d write¬†about your game, but with stable and polished we would’ve had better¬†chance in getting those big articles
  • Not enough press coverage on the big sites. Not many big sites wrote¬†about us, and so we didn’t get enough traffic on the campaign page.
  • The beginning was too slow. The campaign really needed those big numbers to look like a successful¬†campaign. This could be me speculating, but I checked some successful¬†campaigns and they all had a very strong start.
  • PR mails were sent too late. This could partially explain the slow start. We sent the promo¬†mails AFTER we launched, because we wanted to provide the KS link in the
    e-mails. We got plenty of articles but they were probably too late and people were already speculating that this will another failed Kickstarter.
  • Our goal was too high. This has been said many times, but¬†I still feel that our goal was reasonable when you take a look at the¬†budgeting.

I’m really happy that we have a big number of backers and if you exclude¬†friends and family, all of this money came from organic sources. I know¬†that some people grow their total pledge amount with some of their own¬†money, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we decided against it¬†and it was fantastic to see that over 1000 people were ready to fund our¬†game.

So what happens now? Well, we keep on making the game, of course!¬†There’s no reason to quit altogether after one adversity – we just have¬†to learn from out mistakes and do things better next time. We have¬†already started by launching a pre-order on Paypal.



Our next goal is to make a great demo for the Prisonscape beta team, the¬†press and for the Youtubers which hopefully brings more attention¬†towards the game. We also want to build a good community which gives us¬†feedback and new ideas about the game, and we’re hoping that YOU would¬†be part of it by pre-ordering the game.

The Prisonscape forum has been¬†opened, and if you’re interested in prison life, I would highly suggest¬†checking out this thread:

Ask an ex-con (almost) anything

Garland is an ex-con who helps us with the game and answers questions about¬†prison life in general. It’s very interesting read!

Nobody knows about your stupid game – on promoting Indies

I’ve read many articles on indie promotion and they all seem to¬†emphasize one point which is: nobody knows about your game. In this post I go through our experiences on promoting Prisonscape and¬†the things I’ve learned during the process.

Our first promotional posts were done around 10 months ago. We posted
this announcement for the game to /r/IndieGaming on Reddit and after that just kinda hoped for people to notice us. At this point I knew absolutely nothing about indies or where
they can be promoted. After a while I got to know the scene and just recently¬†I came up with a “layering system” for promoting our game. This system divides¬†the population into three different layers, and your goal is to penetrate as many of them as possible. Usually indie developers should only concentrate on the last layer.¬†These layers are:

“Normal” people

Almost all the people I know belong to this layer. These are the people who play
Farmville, Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds in the loo. They are often called as
casual players. This layer is almost impossible to penetrate, since basically every
game is a potential hit in this target group. It’s like playing the lottery – you make
a game and hope for the best. Even ridicilously polished, great games fail among normal
people. Most indies can forget about this target group.

Fuck yeah, three stars!

How to penetrate this layer:
– Lots of advertising on mainstream medias
– Viral campaigns
– Simple gameplay
– A stroke of luck

Regular gamers

This group pays for games and play them a lot, but it’s mostly AAA stuff. Also very hard
layer to penetrate, since it’s very difficult for indies to compete with top quality games
made with huge budgets. These people will most likely choose 30 USD AAA game over 10 USD indie. Every once in a while this layer is penetrated by indie titles. Good examples of such titles are Amnesia, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Mount & Blade and the newest addition, Pokemon: Generations.

This game sells better than your game.

How to penetrate this layer:
– AAA quality graphics
– Advertising on mainstream medias and large social media platforms such as Reddit
– High production value
– Large monetary investments
– Experience
– Popular concept (Pokemans, etc.)
– Unique and interesting idea

Indie gamers and nostalgics

Now this layer is something most indies will try to penetrate. Indie gamers are people who specifically concentrate on games that don’t necessarily have top quality graphics and effects and they are also more eager to pay for games (my observation, might not be true). I also put up nostalgics here, since these people enjoy classic gameplay and graphics which indies have.¬†I think that we haven’t really done that with Prisonscape just yet, but hopefully¬†this all changes once we reach a few promotional milestones. When we started doing Prisonscape last November, I knew nothing about this group. I didn’t know about Gamasutra, Indie/ModDB, TIGSource or any other similar sites. I had never used Twitter and to be honest I thought it was a stupid and limited platform. But after a while I started¬†finding these resources and also discovered their potential for promoting the game.

First thing we did in our promotion was to start our devblog with own domain name. This didn’t really do anything, since nobody knew about our game, so we tried to put the word out there. The problem was that we only had¬†the idea and nothing much to show. This all changed after we hired an artist to work¬†on the graphical assets. After a while we found out about Reddit’s Screenshot Saturday and tried to bring something new to the table every week. After a while, we created pages to IndieDB – I really like this site since it already has a big audience and promoting your game was very easy. TIGSource’s devlog section is also very good place to promote your game. Twitter is a very good platform for networking, and some jaw-dropping screenshots can get a dozen of retweet and amount
you tens of followers.

This was the first screenshot we posted to SSS of Prisonscape

The first people who will notice you on this layer are indie developers. I would say that most of our¬†“fans” are actually indie developers themselves. The reason for this is because they often can tell the¬†difference between a prototype/tech demo and an actual game. They will take a look at your concept, even when the game looks like shit. Indie devs are also very encouraging towards other people’s projects, because they know how difficult it is to make something as simple as moving objects on the screen.

How to penetrate this layer:
– Have something to show. I’ve seen a lot of concepts getting popular based only on one or two amazing looking screenshots or tech demos
– Write a LOT about your game – all of it doesn’t have to be big announcements about big, new features. If you are on IndieDB, notice that even adding screenshots puts you on top of the browse list which gives you more coverage
– Have a dialogue with your target audience – take feedback and comment on it. For example, we decided to do complete overhaul on our battle system after a discussion on RPG Codex
– Study your “competition” – check out past Screenshot Saturdays, check devlogs on TIGSource and browse top 100 games on IndieDB. Read comments on these games to see what people like and expect from these games
– Don’t be afraid to go and pitch your idea and concept on social media – we’ve done it on 4chan /v/ and got a lot of positive feedback (and also a LOT of negative feedback!)
– Don’t be annoying spammer and try to make every gaming website write about your game – these guys usually contact you if they find the game interesting. Exceptions are “media bombs” nearing big announcements and releases such as Kickstarter or putting out an alpha version/demo for your game
– Use analytics tools to see where your traffic is coming from. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are of course good for this
– Keep up good relations with other developers, they can help you pitch your game when the time comes as long as you’re also helping them
– Don’t worry about overdoing it – nobody knows about your stupid game.

Financing Prisonscape

After reading this article

http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/2013/08/04/gratuitous-business-expenses/

In total we have spent 2250 euros which is about 3000 dollars. As you can see, most of our money has gone to graphics. We outsource all of our graphics and music and we started working with David on graphics as soon as we realized how shitty at drawing I was. Case started doing music much later, after we had early alpha version and we were

sure about the style we wanted to go with. We had a lot of luck when we assembled the team, since we all were extremely interested in making games but had practically no previous experience in the field.

I made some rough estimates about our future expenses, and we’ll probably have to spend about 6000 euros (8000 USD) more to finish the make. This is the bare minimum, and it would not contain all of the planned cutscenes and scenarios, but the game would still be playable and goddamn excellent. So far all of the money has come from our own pockets and savings, but we are still considering crowdfunding.

This would also give us the opportunity to do some presales of the game and give the fans the chance to participate in beta testing and giving feedback during the development. We wouldn’t have any physical awards because it would just take out time from the actual development, but we would probably include tiers for people who want to contribute to the actual game on different levels – it could be as small as writing a graffiti on the wall
or adding a book to the library or something bigger, such as creating your inmate with desired background and personality.

My point with this babbling was actually this: making games is pretty expensive, especially if you outsource the assets. There are of course people who are able to do all by themselves, but if me and Tuomas did the graphics and music for the game, nobody would EVER play it. It’s better to buy these things from professionals who know what they’re doing!

Let me just show you how this game looked before David took over the graphics:

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You wouldn’t play this, would you?

Frequently Asked Questions

We get a lot of repeated questions about features and story of Prisonscape, and because of that I decided to do this writeup and a small FAQ about this stuff.¬†From now on, we can just link to this post when people ask about these things, and it’s also a good reminder for us about all the features we have promised. ūüėČ

Who are working on the game (alphabetical order):

Core team

Pekka Kallioniemi (pekka.kallioniemi@uta.fi & Twitter), game design & mechanics
Tuomas Hynninen (tuomas.hynninen@gmail.com & Twitter), programming

Other members

Case Portman (Twitter), music
David Hammond (Twitter), graphics
Magnus Nygaard, SFX

Q: What is Prisonscape?

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A: Prisonscape is an adventure/RPG game that is taking place in prison. The player needs to survive in this harsh and violent environment. Inside you have to deal with such things as constant assaults, creating and using weapons, interacting with other prisoners and learning the trade inside the jail. The player can develop his character to be, for example,
a strong, tough fighter or an intelligent, charismatic manipulator.

Q: Why should I be interested?

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A: Here are some key features of Prisonscape that WE would find interesting in a game:

– Craft makeshift weapons out of the stuff lying around the prison
– Deal and/or use drugs
– Join a gang and start riots
– Gain (and lose) reputation by doing jobs for other inmates/guards
– Solve problems by using your intelligence and/or your muscles
– Study and train inside the prison to become proficient in many of the skills in Prisonscape, including fighting, reading and writing and pickpocketing
– Lose all your stuff in shakedowns or gain benefits and hindrances from various random events in the game
– Snitch to the guards about other inmates to get some nice bonuses such as cigarettes and phone tokens (but don’t get caught!)

Q: How far are you in the development? When can I play alpha/beta/final game?

A: We are currently working on a playable demo version of the first of the three chapters in the game. We are doing things in parallel so that Tuomas is coding the engine and the basic features of the game, I (Pekka) am writing the story, jobs (quests), characters, creating battle mechanics and roleplaying elements, David is working on the graphics and Case is doing the soundtrack. Our goal is to have the demo out this year and the final game will be released some time in the next year. We did our first early alpha gameplay video, check it out here.

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If you are interested in doing some alpha testing (for free, as we unfortunately can’t pay you), send us e-mail.

Q: It’s just Chrono Trigger in prison environment! (<- that’s not a question)

A: No, it’s not. Even though Chrono Trigger has inspired us a lot, PS differs from traditional JRPG’s in a way that there are a lot of more elements from old LucasArts/Sierra point’n’click adventure games. Items are not just used as weapons and boosts, and you actually have to make your weapons from the stuff that you collect around the prison. There are puzzles to be solved and there’s also a lot of emphasize on dialog and social relations between the player and other inmates and guards. The main story line is quite linear but there are often several ways of achieving things and completing jobs and we also have side stories that the player can complete if he wills.

Q: Is there harsh language and are there politically incorrect words used in the game?

A: Yes. In our opinion it is stupid to make a Disney version of prison game so the language will be pretty close to the stuff you hear on prison documentaries, Oz, etc. So, there will be genuine Paula Deen category foul mouthed buttery shit talk.

Q: Are the graphics/animations final?

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A: No. We will of course do a final polish on the graphics by adding light and shadow, small animations, etc. We will also polish animations by adding more keyframes and timing them better.

Q: Will there be Kickstarter/IndieGogo?

A: Maybe. It all depends on much we are able to fund the project by ourselves. The thing about doing a (succesful) campaign is that then we would be able to add a lot of additional material into¬†the game. This would mostly be more graphics in form of cutscenes and animations. We are not very eager to bring in any new features as they would just delay the release of the actual game. Our original intention was to make three different player character with different ethnicities, jobs and story lines but this would’ve just been too much work. With succesfully funded campaign we could make these as a free DLC that would be released (long) after the final game. So the additional funding we would get from the campaign would be used for graphics and maybe writing. We¬†both have full time jobs so we don’t really need any money for living costs, etc.

Q: Is there rape? Can I play as a trap? Can I sell myself to other inmates? Can you make it female prison?

 

A: There’s rape as part of the story, but the player character is not really involved. No, no and no.

Q: I make ‘Let’s play’ videos in Youtube. Can I make one about Prisonscape?

A: Sure. Send us e-mail or on Twitter and we’ll add you to our promo list. We’ll send the “press version” as soon we have something concrete on our hands.

Q: Have you had any press coverage?

A: Yes! We did an interview for Independent Gaming blog in March, you can find it here.
Also, we were mentioned in Indie Statik’s article “25 Indie Games Still to Come In 2013 That We’re Excited About”, you can find it here.

We should probably tell them that the game will be released in 2014, though…

The State of Play, part 2

After a short summer vacation, our whole team is back in business and we’ll be seeing a lot of progress in all aspects of the game in near future.¬†We finally finished our intro graphics, which I think turned out incredible. Don’t believe me? Check it out:

We also have some incredible songs for the game, and we’re currently doing theme songs for different gangs we have in the game. Case Portman has created a nice mixture of chiptunes and instruments and has perfectly captured the prison mood in his songs. We’ll provide some samples in our next post,¬†but you can already find some of his masterpieces in the first gameplay video found in the previous blog post!

In the coding department Tuomas will be concentrating on item handling and inventory. We’ve also started making first quests which turned out pretty interesting.Next we’ll start making a nicer looking user interface and finally get rid of the Final Fantasy ripoffs.

The story is also coming together nicely. We have a good variety of interesting inmates including gang members from Aryan Brotherhood, Black Guerrilla Family, Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia. We also have few inmates from Triad, a guy who was sentenced for pyramid scheme, a hacker who got sentenced for breaking into MIT network, a sadistic homosexual serial killer, famous rapper accused of sleeping with young girls, Italian-American escape artist and a Polish-Jewish  mercenary/contract killer.

Gameplay video

So, it has been a while since our last update. We’ve been enjoying the summer but also been working a bit. Here is the first official early alpha gameplay video for Prisonscape:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fx4jZVaTGw

Some notes:

– UI elements are ripped off straight from Final Fantasy games, but they are of course temporary. We’ll replace those with fancy ones once we get them done
– There are still a lot of missing animations and the other inmates are not really doing anything inside the prison. We want to put up some animations where the inmates walk around, talk to each other, etc. We’ll also polish some of the walking/fighting animations by adding frames
– The “job” done in the video is one of the most basic ones. In many cases jobs can be done in different ways, using different statistics and skills. We’ll show those in the upcoming gameplay videos

The State of Play

Just a quick update on where we are and where we are going. Like I mentioned before, we found an amazing artist who’s been making us a completely new set of sprites and tiles for the game. Our cooperation so far has been really good and we’re making progress with the graphics. Unfortunately I’ve been a bit¬†lazy with the story line and design but we’ve made some progress on that field too. The story for the game is pretty much done except for some minor details and additions. The map for the demo version is also done and I’ll probably get a huge morale boost as soon we have all the new tiles and sprites in place.

Tuomas has been working on the collision detection system and making the graphics move smoother. After this he can start working on the actual game features such as the battle and job systems. He’ll also be working on some tools that make the game creation easier and faster.

Our next tasks in a nutshell:

– I will work on the dialog and job system and write an exceptional dialog for the game
– David will continue his work on the graphics
– Tuomas will finish up the core functions of the engine and after that he starts working on the game features
– Hopefully we can provide some early gameplay videos for you some time next week!

It would probably be stupid to give any deadlines at this point of development, since both of us (Pekka & Tuomas) are working on our full-time jobs, but we try to work on Prisonscape as much as possible on our free time!