Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

Five years as a full-time Indie

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The exact timing is a little off, but I today just renewed my business license.

Yes, 5 years ago July I left my job as Technical Director at Big Blue Bubble (now one of Canada’s largest game studios … you’re welcome ;)). Here’s what I had to say.

All systems are go!
July 29th, 2005 – 10:34 PM

Amazing. Today was my official last day at Big Blue Bubble. BBB was a great place to work, but I’m a too ambitious for my own good. So, lets see if I can make this [independent game developer thing] happen.

Back then I was still a regular contributor to Indie Games website GameTunnel, and I hadn’t yet taken over as the Ludum Dare guy (I was more annoying than useful back then — It’s April! Better run a compo!).

Uh oh... the flame is lit... what's going to happen now?

One of the first things I did after leaving was crunch a few more days of polish in to PuffBOMB (a game originally created during a Ludum Dare competition), and submit it to the IGF and Slamdance for the 2006 events.

It didn’t make the finals in the IGF, but PuffBOMB was actually a finalist for a special Slamdance award, the “PopCap Casual Game Award“. Unfortunately, it was the only finalist of that award that didn’t make the main competition, so it’s difficult to find evidence it was even there.

In retrospect, it looked to be an especially good year for Slamdance; My competition being Cloud (from the people that later started That Game Company), Narbacular Drop (the precursor to Valve’s Portal), N (the great Ninja platformer from Metanet), and many more. Definitely in good company.

After my PuffBOMB revision, and for the rest of the year I started working on my rope-physics game I called “The Spider“.

Early experiments with verlet physics left me wanting to create a soft body physics engine

A former boss of mine infected me with his fascination for an obscure Japanese platformer Umihara Kawase, and after spending some time a year or so back learning spring physics, I decided I wanted to attack the “rope-game” idea.

The Sykhronics website circa November 2005 ... back when it was just my pseudo-portfolio site

By the end of the year, I persuaded my brother Richard to start working with me. And just before the end of 2005, I formally registered my company: Sykhronics Entertainment. Early February 2006, I announced it and my plan:

Sykhronics, pronounced “psi-cron-icks” [is] A branding of Mike Kasprzak’s independent game works. Established in 1998, replacing my older branding Gamma Flare Games. After bouncing around the gracious hosting of a few friends, I acquired the “dot com” in 2000. Sykhronics served my purposes as a portfolio site to nab me a job in the game industry, and did so in late 1999.

[Sykhronics is now] Sykhronics Entertainment. Still a branding, but now also a legal Canadian company. A sole proprietorship owned and operated by Mike Kasprzak, registered in late 2005. Fancy biz license and everything.

The big plan behind Sykhronics Entertainment is different than what I’ve done in the past. Rather than the big studio atmosphere, with dozens of team members and projects, it’s more simple. An independent game developer, small and collaborative, in many ways similar to the crew behind a collaborative music project, or an indie comic. So while the team may dramatically change from project to project, when I’m in a significant role, you’ll see Sykhronics brandings.

It seems I thought highly of musicians and comic books back then. 🙂

I’d say that “manifesto” still holds true, but things certainly changed and evolved as the years went by.

The Spider” game continued to evolve, and eventually looked like this.

Green tentacle ball, orange bendy scenery, squishy purple blocks

Mid 2006, we decided that The Spider lacked a clear end goal. Any attempt at coming up with something “XBLA worthy” seemed like it would take years instead of months. To try and focus the vision of things, we switch gears to a tank-game called Ballistic Force.

Ballistic Force - a take on scorched earth ... maybe... it was to have destroyable scenery

Ballistic Force was something we actually started pitching to Sony, as this was around the same time they announced the EAP program (now known as PlayStation Network/PSN). Sony actually got back to us, but after we signed the papers, that was the last we heard from them. It was for the best though, since we killed the project after about a month.

Fall 2006, we decided to take what we’d done and start working on a remake of PuffBOMB called PuffBOMB HD. By January 2007, it looked like this.

The weird row of orange things was a (physically) a chain rope... just not visually.

The original plan was for me to do the art, but at the time I never really did much of anything beside pixel art, so I wasn’t able to produce much usable artwork either of us really liked. So I hired an artist to help out.

By June 2007, the game looked like this.

Planning the next move

Soft body mushroom physics, and an evil vortex (the one piece of artwork that I did ... oh, and the horrible UI)

Three 'hamsters', an evil vortex, and a vase

Multiplayer Mode

All things considered, it was actually turning in to a pretty decent game.

I’ve actually been keeping quiet on some of the nitty gritty details of this project, but seeing how it’s been a few years now, I’m ready to talk about it.

What I neglected to mention was that the game was being developed with the Xbox 360 in mind — We did all our testing using Xbox 360 controllers (the iPhone didn’t exist yet, and I can’t remember where Steam was at). During the 4-6 months working with our contract artist, I had pitched the game to Microsoft as an Xbox Live Arcade game (Note: this was in the days before XNA and XBLIG). We got a good initial response from them, before several months of silence. I’m mostly to blame for this (back then I was still nervous about cold e-mailing “cool people” like Microsoft’s Xbox division), but it was a mutual neglect of communication. As it turns out, my contact left the company — Yikes!

When we were finally picked up by the new rep, the game was brought to Microsoft’s game approval board, and was ultimately turned down. It was for the best though. Richard and I were too caught up waiting for the “emotional validation” of Microsoft green-lighting us, that after the 6 months of waiting, we had very little motivation to do more (we were slacking a-lot). We would have probably become one of those very-late “problem developers” that they were clearly trying to avoid. If I remember correctly we got the word in August, Richard bailed and started looking for a real job (after all, he did work for me unpaid for nearly 2 years), so I spent the next month finishing up with the artist and finally shelved the project in September 2007.

This here was the the turning point. The shock, the anger, the bitterness of having thinking your project was killed by someone outside. I invested a good “5 figure” chunk of cash in to the project (the artist had to be paid). Ooooooh!! {arm flailing}

Ahem… Of course, I was clearly an idiot at the time. Microsoft didn’t kill the project, we did. We let ourselves get comfortable in the idea that “attempting” to make an Xbox Live Arcade game was a safe and flawless plan. The axiom “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” became cemented in me, which might explain my RIDICULOUS porting tendencies lately. 😉

I also should point out, developer relation people seem to leave companies all the time. Come back a year later, and a company may have a completely different staff in the department you deal with. Sometimes it’s a bad thing (the new guy doesn’t care for your work), and sometimes it’s a good (GREAT!) thing (the new guy likes it, is very enthusiastic, and full of ideas).

After a month or so of “burnout recovery”, I started working on my general purpose framework — Taking a huge list of things I did wrong structuring PuffBOMB HD and correcting them.

As I mentioned, I was burned out. We spent about a year working on PuffBOMB HD, and a year before that doing The Spider stuffs. I did NOT want to do anything even remotely PuffBOMB related, not right now at least. I eventually started on a new concept during a Ludum Dare competition, but not much came of it.

Pillar Caterpillar - Concept art... the playable was just boxes

March 2008 comes along, as does my framework stuffs. Apple announced the iPhone App Store and the iPhone SDK. I (stupidly) wait 2 days before finally signing up, so I totally miss the beta period. I spend the next few months prototyping.

Magtraction, a crappy puzzle game concept that's core mechanic should be fairly obvious from the working title

Dungeon Legion - Well... I'll come back to this.

Before July rolls around, I get through 2 notable concepts. The first, Magtraction, was really not very fun once prototyped. The second, Dungeon Legion, was actually interesting, but I judged that it was going to take me too long to get something submittable ready.

Then one day, I’m visiting my mom, when she throws out a line she hasn’t in years.

Make me a game. Some sort of Gem game or Match game.

I’ve always responded to that with a bold “I refuse to rip off an existing game. If I do make something like that, it has to be based on an original idea“. For kicks, I thought I’d try coming up with something. I came up with an “original” matching game mechanic; I start prototyping it, and before I even get it half working, I discover something: My original concept was too complicated, but half implemented it’s actually unique, original, and a pretty good idea. The concept seemed too obvious, and I was actually afraid if I didn’t do it, someone else would … and it would be soon. At least with PuffBOMB clones, the barrier to entry was higher (though physics middleware is far more prevalent today). This matching game though, many coders could get it up and running in just a weekend.

Pattern Trade prototype, after match detection was working, I realized this by itself is actually a neat game. It became Smiles' Zen mode

This lead to Smiles, a game I’ve been talking about (non stop) for the past 2 years. Developed solo in 4 months, July 2008 to October 2008, it was released for iPhone.

The (now classic) 8x9 game board -- iPhone version only

It actually did pretty poorly when it it came out, no more than a few hundred copies in its first weeks. But the important thing is I was FINALLY making money. The 3 years prior to Smiles I made practically nothing, and merely drained away my bank account. That’s okay though, since it was the plan. Before I started at Big Blue Bubble, I’d already saved a bunch of money to prepare myself for this. BBB gave me a whole extra year to save money for my eventual Indie venture (and added another year of burn-out too — oh the fun of startups).

Then things started picking up. First, it was finalist in the Independent Games Festival in 2009. I flew out to San Fransisco for the very first time to (finally) attend the Game Developers Conference.

The Smiles pavilion at the Game Developers Conference ... undecorated

The press liked it.

Pocket Gamer UK, you guys rock! They sent me this

I wrote a book (chapter).

Funny enough, I wrote a chapter on writing portable code... well, it's funny now. Back then I only had an iPhone version of the game.

Later that year I (finished) porting the game to Netbooks.

I like netbooks

Then, if you can believe it, in 2010 the Netbook port WON ME A CAR!!!!


A CAR!!! AHHHHHH!!! Also an all expense paid trip to GDC, but the car is definitely the iconic item.

I ported it to iPad, where it was a launch title.

Smiles HD, the now totally musically better version .. sorry iPhone

In September I was invited by Intel to speak at their Elements conference (held alongside Intel Developer Forum) in San Fransisco.

2nd from the right, black and white shirt... that was a big stage

A bunch more platforms including webOS, Maemo, Windows Mobile 6.5 and more recently Windows Phone 7.

How did you spend your summer? Mine was spent with WP7

And VERY recently I’ve started seeding the game to PC distributors.

Desura - a Steam-Like service from the ModDB and IndieDB people. Very cool.

I haven’t even mentioned any of the Ludum Dare stuff yet (a topic all in itself).

So it’s been an eventful 5 years, lots of really cool things to look back on. And now with the $60 to renew my business license paid in full, here’s to another 5 years.

I wonder if the car will still be running by then?

Teenage Indie Game Dev Ninja Turtle

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

I guess I’ve been involved in games a long time. Doing “amazing” things with “PRINT” on the Commodore 64 at the age of 9, and promoting a cheesy Zelda/Final Fantasy hybrid online at 16. Just to give some perspective, the year was 1996, and the game was called Legends of Tidal, a game the Internet has forgotten. Then there was all that game industry experience, but *pshaw*, nobody cares about that.

Looking back, while most kids were out doing what kids do, I was busy being fascinated with and making video games. Inventing concepts, characters, scenarios, a healthy creative mind at work, with programming and art mixed in for good measure. Sure, they were Final Fantasy clones and 2D plaformers, but *I* thought they were cool.

Before the Internet really took off, the tech savvy of us communicated through BBSes, that is, assuming we communicated at all. Being the computer geek I was, that didn’t really make me all that social. I was never (much) the kid that never talked, but I was certainly not the corner stone of social structure. A topic of the social structure perhaps.

As expected, I made friends in BBS land. Mostly others interested in game development or even the demo scene. And for times, I was part of demo groups and pseudo “game company” alliances with friends. I look back and laugh remembering how much of a nervous dork I was anticipating the first time I attended a gathering of our “demo group”, but hey, I must have been 15, and not part of the social structure.

And a side note, I still get a kick out of every awkward aspect of Real Life and aliases. Referring to real people as Dragon, Narfy, Llama, and Tsu amuses me to no end. Even that pause as you attempt to remember Tsugumo=Jeff, so you don’t look like a complete jackass in front of those not in the loop, priceless. :D

But the point I’m trying to get across was BBSes were personal, in that you’d show your projects to remote friends in much the same way as local friends. Directly. I’m not saying you couldn’t spam people back then, but in my experience back then, you didn’t. It generally felt different. After all, you could be merely be 30 minutes to an hour drive away from everyone in the community. Then came the Internet. While the Internet can be personal, it’s also global, mass market, and when you had a presence, it seemed you were more than an individual. This post, as far as scale is concerned, is addressed to all that trip over the internet and find their way here. It’s structure isn’t how I’d talk to an individual. Again, it’s not that you couldn’t do this before, but finding many like minded individuals on niche topics wasn’t common. When we as game development kids stepped in to this brave new world, everything changed.

Being on the net was huge. We suddenly gained the ability to market our products. Not with money, but net presence, word of mouth, and links. It wasn’t until then we began to think of our products as products. Promotion up until now was merely showing off to friends.

In learning to promote, we were suddenly creating and promoting two products. The first product for many became our brands or “company” identity. We’d design fancy-ass websites with Comic Sans MS, Photoshop Lens Flares, and animated Gif’s. And second (or 3rd, 4th, …), we’d promote our games. We’d hack in screenshot taking code, convert them to Gif’s, place them on our websites. Shortly after, we’d contact people to get us listed and generally get the word out.

Then came the chores. You’d want to update your site regularly, to reassure your fans that you’re making progress. But truth be told, you weren’t a “real” game development operation. It was a hobby. Lack of progress often frustrated you. And this is where many projects died in extravagant “hard drive crashes” or other horrific top secret events.

What started as a mere few good game development weekends produced something cool, then you got all caught up in promotion. There was never any game development structure, we were just having fun. After the game was somewhat playable, promotion was the new fun thing. You’d get a good feeling every time someone linked you, and an even bigger feeling when someone had something good to say. It was the chore tasks of game development that we procrastinated, thus having many games never go beyond the “tile engine demo”.

In retrospect, it never mattered. ’cause hey, you’re a kid, and you should be doing something fun. You’ll do the boring when you grow up and get a job.

Now if only we realized that back then. It could have saved all those months of being annoyed with yourself for doing nothing, in attempts to motivate yourself. That way, we could have focused on whatever random project you wanted to try this week. And after a few years, we’d have had lots more little things. And not to mention, know more about game development.

Beh… kids.

Classic Logos

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

Whilst writing my recent post on the updated logo for the business transition of the branding, I was inspired to take a look at the progression of Sykhronics logos over the years. Some of the more recent logos are custom designed fonts, which is something I plan to again some day with the logo.

The latest/last logo on the classic Sykhronics website. Created and placed as part of my August 2003 website redesign. The established 1997 is sorta accurate, since this is my personal website/portfolio. Prior to Sykhronics, my productions used to be branded as Gamma Flare Games, and I set up my first website for it on Geocities way back in 1996. It’s a custom font of only the characters seen here, and distorted for effect.

This started as a Sykhronix logo style, but was later adapted to Sykhronics. Another custom font actually made italicized.

Boxy Boxy Boxy Bok!
I nearly missed this one. A few years after I had made the site my showcase of stuff, this was how it looked. Not a custom font, but the box thing was cool enough to make it custom enough. Actually, the only reason I didn’t make a font is I was too tired to make it after making the box. ;)

Pixely logo from 2002. Started out as a 3×5 pixel font, then sized up nice and big, filled in and applied a bevel effect. It always reminded me of something demo scene’ish, despite the blatant bevel effect look. I’ve made many pixel fonts in my day, including the infamous 3×5. I used to be able to reproduce the Commodore 64 font from memory. That’s my super power.

Gafix Designyness
The brand new Sykhronix logo, made about the same time as the previous pixel one. This was a pure brown webpage with the odd tinted image seen above the logo. The idea behind it was just to have the look of one of those cool minimalist graphic designer webpages. It’s actually a photograph of some bridges between some buildings, but rotated sideways to make it less distinguishable.

Even crazier
A shortened version from 2002. “SYKO”, with a detached outline, and some crazy swirls in the background. Actually, now I’m curious how I did the swirls.

I\'m Syko!
A variation from 2001 in an incomprehensible style and shortened. It’s supposed to be read as “SYKO”. Yeah, I can’t believe it either. At this point, my website had become more of an archive, listing my previous works, and previously completed commercial games. Exciting.

burning again
This was the first Sykhronix logo. Made for the dot com when I registered it.

Karma of the red kind
The Red Karma’ized version of Sykhronics Logo. Red Karma was a small label/branding group including myself, Kenny Thornton, and the guys at Execute (a long since abandoned group). Kenny was the only one to ever release anything under the branding, so it’s pretty much his. The logo also includes a colored drawing of Zeb, my old “cool” character that defined the Sykhronics branding way back when.

Digitalness was cool, so I just had to have a logo with a flashing cursor. In case you can’t see it, it’s beside the “click to enter…”.

Bring back the Gamma
One of the many logo’s from the return of Gamma Flare era. The return was a more like a conversation, a few weeks of building tools and art, and a return to slacking. It was glorious. Gamma Flare was mostly me, until a few short collaborative sessions between my brother, and another friend named Mike. Then when I adopted Sykhronics, Gamma Flare became the name used for our collaborative branding.

Here’s a logo from 1999 that was to be used on the new version of my site for my first domain, $70 for 2 more years seemed too expensive when I finally found you could buy .com domains online for $15.

Almost to the original. Hey, hold on, this actually looks cool! Done using some fancy Photoshop filter, before I was big on Paint Shop Pro.

It\'s friend
The original
Finally, the original 1998 beast! In many ways this was one of my favorites. I didn’t feel comfortable using it though, since I couldn’t easily reproduce the flame effect. These were both done with some fancy Photoshop filters, back when I hadn’t sold myself on Paint Shop Pro. The slogan, “Digital Funk in a Digital World” was partially inspired by a fighting game I was planing at the time, conveniently named “Funk World”. A cool animated gif of a character was all that really came of that game, yet the gif inspired the character that became Zeb.

So there you have it. A nearly complete web Logography for Sykhronics. Some logo’s never made it online, so if I come across these I may do another one of these.