Friday, January 23, 2009

Contests, Contests, Contests

We like to have fun here at NinjaBee. One way to keep ourselves entertained (besides making games!) is by holding contests. Last January through April or so we held a Cooking Contest. The contestants who signed up were in charge of cooking lunch for the entire company and everyone else got to judge how good it was. We tried some very exotic and very delicious dishes and enjoyed that contest very much. Here's a picture of the first dish we ate, Steve's Saffron Rice Surprise and Brent's Finger-Lickin' Grilled Chicken.

We ate so well those few months that in May we started a weight loss contest...

But I'm getting ahead of myself! In between the Cooking Contest and the Weight Loss contest we had Mustache March. Anybody who wanted to participate grew out a mustache the entire month and sculpted the nastiest mustache they could for the judging day, the last day of March. Most people even dressed up to resemble the character their mustache embodied and then had to get up in front of everyone and explain why they should win. Here are some of our awesome mustachioed employees:

Steve (owner), Mike (designer) and Joey (programmer)

Brent (art director)...or is that Hulk Hogan?

Jacob (artist)-- Check out the necklace.

And the lovely judges who couldn't participate in the contest (and were glad they couldn't!)

Doritos happened to be visiting us a few days before the contest ended, so the second documentary they did here has some great footage of everyone with their mustaches and judging a fake contest.

So after Mustache March and after the Cooking Contest we held a Weight Loss Contest. In 15 weeks our company lost a total of 205 pounds, with our top winner, Joey Kendall, losing a whopping 37 pounds! Go Joey!

Our most recent contest was a Halloween dress up contest. We had some amazing entries, like a Garden Gnome... 80s aerobics instructor...

...and a Plumber...

...but in the end, our winner was a member of The Lollipop Guild!

So we haven't done anything since October and I think we all agree it's time for another contest. Got any good ideas for us?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Game in a Day Wrap Up

So here are a few videos I took as things were wrapping up on Friday night. I've also posted some more concept art and some screenshots so you can see what the game looks like if you haven't downloaded it yet. Thanks for following along and let us know if you want to see anything here that we didn't mention.

An interview with Jeff, one of our artists, about some things he wished had made it into the game.

Abbey's final concept art of the world. How do you think it compares to the final product?

Justin, team lead, on what we learned through the project

Kevin on being a lead programmer

Steve on the price of fame that comes after Game in a Day

Friday, January 16, 2009

Game in a Day - Done!

OK, we're a couple of hours late, but we're done! Total production time, approximately 12 hours.

Click here to download the game. It's called "" and the executable is called "corn.exe". This is because the codename for the project was "corn".

Monday I'll try to post more detail about the project, but for now, boy, I'm tired of being here!

How to play
Use the mouse to navigate the garden and interact with the plants.
* Click on a flower to pick up a copy
* Click on a bare patch of ground to plant a held flower
* Right-click on a flower to kill it

The four "stock" flowers present at the beginning of the game cannot be killed.

Flowers placed near enough one another may breed, producing genetically based offspring. Each flower has a number of traits determining how it will breed. Individual flowers have preferred soil types and will reproduce more readily if planted in their preference.


Game in a Day--7:15 p.m.

Did we say we'd be done by 6 p.m.? Ha, we meant 7...or 8...or...when we're done :)

So it's 7:15 and things are wrapping up. The game is working (for the most part), particle effects are being tweaked, all of the art is done and we're getting closer to a finished build by the minute. However, we're also getting closer to losing our sanity by the minute; most of us are getting close to an 11 hour day! We'll be sure to post a wrap-up post on Monday with an evaluation of how things went, what we could have done better, etc., as well as a link to the final game.

Until then, have fun doing whatever you're doing!

Game in a Day--4:30 p.m.

Two words: Oh. Crap.

Game in a Day--2:30 p.m.

So it's 2:30 p.m. and we still haven't hit our first milestone, a first playable build. See how our team lead Justin thinks the project is coming along:

Here's some more concept art to give you a feel for how the game is coming along. It seems to me the look and feel of the game has changed even since this morning. What do you think?

Here's a first look at the environment.

Some flower heads

A second pass at the environment.

Some sweet particle effects

And a third look at the environment. It's changed a bit since the first one, eh? And knowing our amazing artists, it's only going to get better.

Game in a Day--First Playable Meeting

So we had our First Playable meeting around 12:30 and though we didn't make the milestone, we had a good time (the plan now is a first playable by 1 p.m. and an alpha by 2 p.m.). Check out some of the people who made us laugh in the video below:

And here are some pictures from the meeting, lunch, etc.

Back of Jeff (left) and Ben's heads, Justin giving Ben the look of death, Steve on Jeff's left

Lead artist Shannon smiling, Taylor (artist) taking notes

Mountains of food from Golden Corral

Mike looking hungry and ready to eat, Lane digging in behind him

Game in a Day--11:00 a.m.

Here are some videos I took around 11, before we left to get lunch for everyone.

Kevin Heap, lead programmer on the project, takes time to talk to me...sort of :)

Jacob shows me the model of the hand that will be doing the gardening in this gardening game:

Abbey Ash and Brent tell me about the name of the game and show me the concept model of the world:

Game in a Day - Introduction

Hi there! This is Steve helping Valerie out with coverage for the Game in a Day event.

I thought I'd introduce the concept a bit, for those who don't already know what's going on. I'll post more later, but for now...

What is Game in a Day?

The Game in a Day event is an attempt to put together a playable game prototype in less than a day. Our whole company put aside everything else they were working on in order to help out with the project. One downside about doing this as a work project is we really only have about 8 hours of production time (though we started with planning and discussion yesterday). The upside is that we've got a bunch of people all working together on it. (Or is that another downside, too...?)

What are the Rules?

We get today only to make the game. Nobody was allowed to write code (besides setting up a blank template project linking to our Wraith engine) or create music or work on scripts or create art assets until this morning, and we have to stop at 6pm. (OK, we might go a little past that, but we'll see how it goes).

In fact, nobody but the four leads (and management) knew what the game was going to be before yesterday afternoon. We had a big meeting to talk about the design and brainstorm a plan for producing it.

We have to start with a clean project, but we're allowed to aggressively borrow useful code from previous games that we own, just like we would for any full project.

Almost all of the art and music is expected to be completely new.

At the end of the day today, we'll post a playable version of the game. Or heads will roll.

What's the Point?

Here are the objectives of the project, in approximately their order of significance:
  1. Have some fun, shake things up a bit.
  2. Stretch our abilities and get better at our jobs. This includes some people trying out new art styles, new programming techniques, and taking on new roles outside what they're used to.
  3. Try out a specific game idea we think might be fun.

Where did this come from?

A bunch of other people around the world have done game-in-a-day events for years, sometimes in big teams and sometimes in teams of just 1 or 2 people. There are similar "Game Jam" events as well, sometimes lasting more than a day.

We've done this a few times before as a company, and some of us have done it before as individuals. Even A Kingdom for Keflings was loosely based on some ideas from a Game in a Day prototype!

See or search garagegames for GID-related posts. I wish I could post URLs for some other sites that used to be all about game-in-a-day contests, but they seem to have died and grown ad weeds.

Game in a Day--10:20 a.m.

So I just realized I never said what kind of game we're doing; it's a gardening game. I don't want to give too many more details than that because things may change as the game evolves throughout the day, but that's the basic idea. The programmers are hard at work coding and the artists are busy working on environments and pieces. Here's some concept art:

These are some flower stems Shawn drew

Here's a clip of Shawn showing us some more concept art:

And here's a clip of Mike, one of our designers, telling me about the music and sounds he's designing for the game. I'm still amazed that he's going to create, record and implement a song into a game in one day:

Game in a Day--8:30 a.m.

For an introduction to our Game in a Day, please see this post by Stay.

So it's 8:30 a.m. and there are more than two cars in the parking lot. I walk inside and lo and behold...

There are programmers downstairs! Hard at work!

You must understand; this is highly unusual. Not that our programmers don't work hard, they just don't work hard at 8 a.m. Most of the time they prefer to get here around 9/10-ish. I think the only times I've seen programmers here before then is when it's crunch time and they're still here because they've been here all night!

Even Steve was here early to supervise and check out the programming action.

So the programmers are off to a good start. Shawn's also here working on some concept art, and I think I hear a few designers trailing in, so I think we're shaping up to finish a good game today!

And of course everyone's thinking skills will be enhanced by our nutritious snacks. Donuts, juice and chocolate milk. Food of the video gaming gods :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Can You Spot the Differences Part 3

And here's the second half of the original A Kingdom for Keflings pitch document. This may make more sense if you read the first half of the document first. I'm going to repeat what I said in the first post in case anyone picks this up at this post and hasn't read the "disclaimer" yet:

This is the original concept document we wrote before we pitched the game to anyone, including Microsoft. It's quite old (about 2 years old) and dramatically different from the final game in some ways.

Based on our own ideas and a great deal of interaction with the Live Arcade team, this concept grew, changed, and in some areas was completely redone multiple times. We developed the full design in a wiki for easy editing, and that turned out to be a good thing.

Looking over the document now, it's clear that we were embarrassingly naive in a few areas, including the planned manpower. This was a much more difficult project than we expected.

Competitive Multiplayer Modes
My Kingdom has a place for multiplayer competition as well. Players may find other players that want to compete through Xbox Live (8 player compatible), or may compete with friends through a single console (4 player compatible). In competitive modes, players face off against one another in a neutral kingdom which is either selected by the host player or randomly generated by the game, thus no competitor’s actual kingdom is affected. In this neutral kingdom, players compete in a variety of ways to prove themselves to be the best kingdom managers.

Examples of Competitive Multiplayer modes:
• Technology Race – players race to see who can develop the most advanced technology given limited resources and time.
• Claim Jumper – the playing field is divided into a grid. Players claim grid sections by having the biggest/most buildings on them. The player with the most grid sections when the time runs out wins.
• Apocalypse Survivor – destructive elements such as tornados, earth quakes, meteors, etc. have bombarded the players’ kingdoms. In addition, players can spend time repairing their own kingdom or helping tear down other kingdoms. The kingdom in the best shape after a timer runs out is the winning kingdom.

Xbox Live Integration

The environment of Xbox Live is one in which many social and interactive features can take place. My Kingdom takes advantage of this through the use of Statistics Records that record players’ accomplishments. Players can compare accomplishments (as in Hexic HD) through Leaderboards, along with traditional high scores.

The game interface uses the players’ gamer picture or video from the Xbox 360 Camera to represent players, as well as indicating who is talking during voice chat, allowing for a highly social and interactive experience.

Players will be awarded for a wide variety of achievements including multi-player achievements, solo achievements, and achievements based on completing specific tasks in game play.

My Kingdom also takes advantage of the customer’s “preferred players,” and friends lists, matching players with those they like to play with, whenever possible.

And finally, My Kingdom includes support for extra downloadable content including new game types, environments, challenges, characters, tools, technology, etc.

The 4 Pillars of Live Arcade
Every live arcade game should adhere to 4 pillars of success. My Kingdom accomplishes this task with gusto.

1. “Pick-up-and-playability.” My Kingdom is a game that may be easily played for any length of time without inconvenience. With short start-up and shutdown times, a player may quickly enter and/or exit the game without losing progress. Levels are relatively short and plentiful, providing short frames of required time dedication on the player’s part, but maintaining overall game length.

2. “Next-Gen visuals.” My Kingdom features sometimes quirky but always beautiful cartoon-style images similar to those of Cloning Clyde and, while not requiring ultra-realistic visual components, the clarity, smoothness, and tone of the art and visuals is fitting for a machine with the capabilities of the Xbox 360.

3. “Multiplayer capability.” Solo players and parties of friends alike will feel at home with the My Kingdom game options. Story-oriented single player and cooperative modes, matched with competitive multiplayer modes of up to 8 people make this game compatible for players with any degree of sociality.

4. “Extendability.” My Kingdom has many areas to expand over time through downloadable content, including: new characters, new game modes, new building materials, new building technologies, new levels, new resources, and more.

Development Team Size

Below is the proposed team size. This chart includes a ramp up in team size that we've found very cost efficient. Many of the decisions and direction can be decided by a smaller core team and after the foundation has been laid, it is much easier for other team members to be more effective with their time.

Wahoo/NinjaBee has a large enough staff to be flexible with team allocation. For example, if later in the project we discover that there are more art needs than programming needs we can easily adjust.

Can You Spot the Differences Part 2

So yesterday I talked a little about the pitch document and showed you the pitch trailer for A Kingdom for Keflings. The first part of this document is posted below, but first a bit of explanation:

This is the original concept document we wrote before we pitched the game to anyone, including Microsoft. It's quite old (about 2 years old) and dramatically different from the final game in some ways.

Based on our own ideas and a great deal of interaction with the Live Arcade team, this concept grew, changed, and in some areas was completely redone multiple times. We developed the full design in a wiki for easy editing, and that turned out to be a good thing.

Looking over the document now, it's clear that we were embarrassingly naive in a few areas, including the planned manpower. This was a much more difficult project than we expected.

Character based city building and management

My Kingdom is a city building and simulation game with a twist. Rather than placing buildings and managing kingdoms through an omniscient, overhead interface, players control an avatar character that walks about the city directly constructing buildings and managing characters and affairs within his domain.

Key Features
• Character based city building
• Customizable Avatar Character
• Manage your population
• Visit other player’s cities and receive visitors to yours
• Multiple levels and scenarios

Players construct buildings by controlling their avatar to pick up pieces and place them. The avatar is moved about the environment with the left analog stick, while the right analog stick controls the camera. If the player wants to build a structure, he simply needs to gather the appropriate resources and place them. Some resources may be processed to produce other resources. For example: If the player wishes to build a bathhouse so his citizens can keep clean, he can gather a few pillars that have been created at the stone worker, put them in place, add a basin from a ceramic shop, and then hook up an aqueduct. A library can be built with a few pillars, a roof, and an intelligent character recruited to run it. The player can build several libraries and a school next to each other and thereby create an academy.

Story Game Mode
The player may progress through the game and build his or her kingdom by accomplishing “levels” that are presented to the player in a relatively linear fashion along a flexible story line. Each level in the campaign game presents the city builder with unique challenges and goals, and the game progressively adds new resources, tools, characters, and obstacles for the player to use and overcome as he/she progresses.

Cooperative Multiplayer
Players are free to build their kingdoms as solo characters, or in collaboration with others. Challenges will have added difficulty for every additional player facing them so as not to put single players at a disadvantage.

Collaborating on challenges is as simple as inviting another player, via Xbox Live, to come to a kingdom, then having them help. In addition, players who have been invited to a city may bring resources and items to be traded with the host player. The amount of freedom a visitor may take in a foreign kingdom is determined by the host, and the host has the power to eject unruly visitors without restraint.

Check back soon for the second half of the pitch document!

Can You Spot the Differences?

About a year and a half ago we did a Game in a Day, and from it the idea for A Kingdom for Keflings was born. NinjaBee will be doing another Game in a Day starting Thursday evening and all day Friday (okay, so it'll be a Game in a Day and a Few Hours) and I'll be blogging and twittering all about it. So in light of that, I thought I'd show off the initial pitch trailer and concept document for A Kingdom for Keflings. In order to keep this post shorter than 1 million words, I'll show you the trailer today and the pitch doc tomorrow. This part below was written by The Fox (Our art director Brent).

Part 1:

The first stage in game development is forming a rough concept. Before getting into all of the details everyone involved needs to understand the basic premise of the game. There are many methods of formulating and presenting a game idea. NinjaBee’s approach has been to create a “pitch document”. This document can be used to pitch the game internally or even used to evaluate the interest of a potential publisher.

We have two simple guidelines that we follow when we are creating these pitch documents:

• Keep it short. (Usually just a couple of pages).
If you can’t explain your game in a couple of pages it may be a bad design or it may need some more time in the oven. Also, executives won’t bother to read a lengthy design document unless you first catch their attention with a short pitch.

• Define the look and feel of the game
It is surprising how important art can be to illustrate an idea. No matter how much anyone says they can look past place holder art, they can’t. The best thing to include is a mock-up of what a screen shot may look like.

In addition to a good pitch document (which you will see in tomorrow's post), we like to create a trailer. When pitching a game, most publishers will ask for a working demo. However, we have found that a trailer is actually better than a demo of the game. For one thing, it would take months to create the effects/features in a demo that we can fake in a week in a trailer. Also, people are more easily convinced after seeing a good movie that shows what the game can do than a demo that crashes every two minutes or a boring bullet list of features.

And with that, here's the trailer that we pitched to Microsoft. As you can see, a LOT has changed...(for example, the working title was My Kingdom)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Potential Live Arcade User Base

So according to Mark Kroese, General Manager of Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices Advertising Business Group, Doritos Dash of Destruction has amassed almost 1 million downloads since its launch on Dec. 17. That sounds like a huge number, right? But, when you take into account that MS just announced that the Xbox LIVE community has grown to 17 million members, that 1 million suddenly doesn't seem as big.

(I bet that Doritos Truck felt big, until those huge dinosaurs flanked him...)

So herein lies the question that Brent and I were discussing this morning: if there are 17 million LIVE users and only 1 million downloaded Dash of Destruction, a FREE Live Arcade game, are there only 1 million people who actually connect to the internet on their Xbox? Or are there 16 million people who don't notice and/or don't care about LIVE Arcade games?

We all know it's silly to think only 1 million people connect to the internet on their Xbox given how many people play big retail games like Halo 3 and Gears of War 2 over LIVE. So, even if we say there are 15 million people who don't notice and/or don't care about LIVE Arcade games (because there are probably around one million people who don't connect their Xbox to the internet at all), that's still 15 million people who aren't playing Xbox Live Arcade games!!! There's obviously a huge market out there that is completely untapped. And seeing as how Live Arcade is our livelihood, we, as well as the other 100 or so Live Arcade developers, need to figure out how to tap that market...Any thoughts?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Top Xbox Live Arcade Games of 2008

So A Kingdom for Keflings launched on Nov. 19 and has had great success since then. So much so, that Major Nelson revealed it was the 4th top selling Arcade game of 2008, only below Castle Crashers, Geometry Wars 2 and Braid. Not bad for releasing mid-November, eh? Anyway, check it out for yourselves here.

And if you've yet to get a copy for yourself, you can try to win one here.

Good luck!