New Book on My Wishlist: Independent By Design

I just learned about the book Independent by Design by Stace Harman and John Robertson.

And now I want it.

Independent by Design book

Independent By Design is a celebration of indie games and independent videogame creation, presented through a deluxe hardback book that chronicles the experiences and vivid design of over twenty of the world’s most revered and renowned indie game developers.

Each chapter tells the story of an indie game development studio, such as Vlambeer or Frictional Games, and the book looks gorgeous.

In fact, there’s two different books. One is the basic, “core” book, which you can get signed by the authors for a little extra cost.

The other is the Transcript Edition, which features “written transcripts of the dozens of hours of interviews we’ve undertaken with independent developers and videogame industry figures.” It’s quite a bit more expensive, but it sounds like a great way to get into the heads of multiple indie game developers without having to do your own set of interviews.

My mom did ask me what I wanted for Christmas recently…

Announcing: Toytles: Leaf Raking, Now Available on Google Play

Available now in the Google Play store, the leaf raking business simulation game Toytles: Leaf Raking puts you in the role of a budding entrepreneur looking to earn enough money to buy yourself the Ultimate Item(tm)!

Toytles: Leaf Raking

During the 90 days before winter, you’ll:

  • Seek out neighbors who need your services and turn them into paying clients.
  • Make key purchasing decisions, such as which types of rakes to buy and how many yard bags to keep in your inventory.
  • Balance your energy and your time as you seek to keep your clients happy without overextending yourself.
  • Visit the kitchen to ask your parents for their advice and wisdom.
  • Learn about personal responsibility and the importance of keeping your promises.

Pay attention to the weather forecast! You can plan your work around rainy weather and windy days, taking advantages of lulls to catch up on yard work for your clients.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Seek out clients in your neighborhood, and keep them happy! After all, they’re paying you to clear the leaves from their yards.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

While your basic rake will get the job done, you’ll want to upgrade to tackle heavier leaf coverage more efficiently.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Earn enough money to buy the supplies and rakes you need to keep your business going. You’ll visit the store regularly.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Explore your neighborhood, but keep an eye on the time! You’ll need those hours to get your work done.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

Make plans and use strategy to earn enough money to buy the Ultimate Item(tm) and win.

Toytles: Leaf Raking

NO ADS, NO IN-APP PURCHASES, AND NO VIOLENCE

Have peace of mind with an ad-free, safe game that may inspire your own entrepreneur.

Get it on Google Play

Get your copy of Toytles: Leaf Raking today, and see if you have what it takes to run your own leaf raking business!

Published on Google Play? Kinda. Not Really.

After over nine months of development, I finally had a game I felt good about brave enough to release to the world.

My major goal was to release the app on the Google Play store first to get a sense of what the process is like and to get direct knowledge about the customers there.

I clicked Publish late in the evening of Saturday, October 22nd. Whew! A big step!

But now I’m in “Pending publication”, and while many unofficial resources mentioned waiting mere minutes to a few hours, I learned that Google changed its policy in 2015 to manually check apps. It still doesn’t take two weeks like it might on Apple’s App store, but it might take a little longer than it used to.

The status switched from “Pending publication” to “Published” the morning of Monday, October 24th. Woo hoo!

Leaf Raking Game - Published Sorta

Er, wait. Sorta.

For an entire day, and even now the next morning, October 25th, I still see “We’re sorry, the requested URL was not found on this server” when I click on the “View in Play store” link.

I keep finding all sorts of unofficial explanations about caching and how long it can be expected to take for listings to propagate through the system, but the only hint that it might take much time at all is in the Developer Console help article “Issues publishing apps” which asks if it “has been over 24 hours since published”, but then goes on to talk about search algorithm changes and reasons why apps might get filtered out on certain devices.

It doesn’t address a published app not actually being available anywhere.

It’s kind of difficult to feel good about finally publishing my project when I can’t point out any evidence to anyone. As a first-time publisher on Google Play, this experience is confusing and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

According to someone on IRC, they had emailed earlier in the day and learned that there were some technical difficulties on Google’s end:

“Typically apps can take up to 24 hours to appear on the Play Store, however we are currently experiencing longer than usual delays across a large portion of our system. Our technical team is actively working on a solution and hope to have this issue fixed by the end of the day.”

So, we wait.

I find it confusing because when I self-publish on my own site, I don’t consider the game published until someone else can actually see it.

But this experience is teaching me about the process way more than reading about it ever would.

Open Source Taxes

Flash game developers may remember Flixel, the open source game dev library created by Adam “Atomic” Saltsman.

HaxeFlixel is the Haxe-based port that eventually became its own full-featured, mature library that allows for deployment across not only Flash but many other platforms.

The five-year-old project is an open source project using the MIT License. That license, unlike the GPL, does not require code changes to be released to the public.

While the MIT License is appealing to developers who want to leverage freely available code for their own projects, there is nothing to encourage contributions to the source code of a project that is under that license.

The terms of the GPL requires any modifications to be released, so it solves the problem of people taking advantage of the code but not contributing back. But if a project’s developers don’t want to make that requirement, would prefer to have the MIT License applied instead, and still have people contribute to the project, whether in monetary terms or source code, what can be done?

How We Paid Our Open Source Taxes documents how the HaxeFlixel project was able to “collect its open source taxes with smiles on all sides.”

In this case, the core contributors realized that the project founder lives in an area where the cost of living is much, much less than it would be in, say, San Francisco. Just $6,000 would be enough.

So rather than having a vague fundraiser and hoping to make a bunch of money to meter out as needed, they were able to make a hyper-focused plea with their IndieGoGo campaign to get enough money to gain a full-time developer rather than require the project to continue to be supported by an all-volunteer base of contributors.

It’s kind of like when you talk to people about how much money they wish they had in life. Some people talk about “a million dollars” as if it is a lot of money that they’ll never see in reality, and other people realize that they can get penthouse apartments complete with maid service in some exotic countries for less than the cost of a New York apartment, such as what Tim Ferriss described in The 4-Hour Workweek.

The trick is learning what’s really possible.

HaxeFlixel’s story gives some insight into not only how an open source project operates but also teaches the lesson that if you know exactly what you need, it’s a lot easier to ask for it.

Nah, I Think I’ll Still Call Games Art

No, Video Games Aren’t Art. We’re BETTER by Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel is an alpha strike against…I guess people who talk about games as an art form?

While I don’t disagree with many of his points, I don’t think it ever really lands home the argument that games are somehow “SuperArt,” beyond mere art and evolved into something that is somehow more.

I love literature and theatre. I love great movies. Yet, I can’t remember any work of art, no matter how good, that consumed and drained me as much as the Cyberdemon in DOOM.

You could make the same argument about sex, which is also not something that someone would argue is art in the first place.

Arguing that games are financially doing well, incredibly culturally relevant, and published in great numbers is somehow arguing that games are doing great and don’t need to be forced to grow up and become art…as if someone is making this argument?

Artistic accomplishment? Creativity? Look up any Best Games list from 2014 or 2015. Video games are breaking new barriers in craftsmanship and artistic expression every year and turning profits while they do it.

I’ll bite. From PC Gamer’s 2014 list:

Game of the Year 2014: Alien Isolation, so basically Metal Gear Solid with horror? EGM’s quote according to the Wikipedia article: “”succeeds as a genuine effort to capture the spirit of the film franchise in playable form.” So a SuperArt form that is oddly derivative of the art it is supposedly beyond.

Best Singleplayer: Dragon Age: Inquisition, a sequel. It may be an awesome sequel, and perhaps they did some innovative work there, but it’s a sequel.

And 2015’s version of these awards went to Metal Gear Solid V and The Witcher 3. More sequels.

Sometimes I go to movies to see sequels, as well, but when gaming’s top offerings for the last decade boil down to space marines (to the point that Ubisoft publishes a game called “Space Marine”), World War II first-person shooters, and sequels to successful franchises, sports or otherwise, it’s hard to argue about how creative the game industry is. Even Minecraft, which don’t get me wrong, is incredible and not only offers a lot of ways to BE creative, but also involved quite a bit of creativity to implement, was originally based off of Infiniminer, and steals (and gives back) from Dwarf Fortress, among other games.

But then, Microsoft always liked to claim innovation with the caveat “for the first time on Windows…”

Listen, I don’t think anyone looks at certain popular films or novels as high art. Some of them are just candy, and candy sells well. So I don’t look to best of lists for innovation. I look to them for popularity. What’s everyone playing? Quite frankly, most everyone is playing sequels to games they already liked, overlooking some of the truly innovative work that is out there. That’s popularity for you.

No, I don’t think poorly of the game industry. I think what we do is amazing, and I have also argued against people like Roger Ebert who thought games can’t be art.

But when film was new, people thought it was a poorer form of theatre. Theatre was ART. Film? It was never going to live up to theatre’s ability to be art.

Then film came into its own. I’m sure people argued that film’s capabilities were so beyond theatre’s that art no longer was an appropriate term to describe it. Speculation on the future of film in its infancy leads to such flights of fancy.

Games are interactive. They pull you into an experience in an active way, which can be considered superior to the passive way a movie or book does it. Games can be elegantly well-designed. Games can do more than film, writing, sculpture, painting, or any number of art forms…in certain kinds of experiences.

But not all. It’s why people still buy books and watch films and go to museums. The fact that more people play games and more money is spent on games changes nothing.

When I write a game, I try to make you feel like you have power. Then I try to make you feel the awesome, terrifying responsibility of having power. When I force you to make a tough decision, for a brief moment, I can reprogram your brain and take your thoughts somewhere they’ve never been before. This is amazing.

It IS amazing.

It’s also not unlike art, which can take you out of your comfort zone and make you rethink your outlook on life. People cry at performance art. People have changed their careers and lives based on books they’ve read. And games have also changed people’s lives in meaningful ways beyond sweating and dopamine hits.

We haven’t begun to come to terms with the power we’ve unleashed with these toys, these addiction machines.

Oh, ok. We’re beyond art, but we’re nothing more than a drug?

It’s one thing to argue that games don’t need to worry about denigrating themselves by calling themselves art and being associated with the lower mediums.

It’s another to make that argument and then kick the legs out from that same argument by making it sound like the people behind games are nothing more than drug pushers looking to exploit those looking for their next high. “Video games are popular to the point of global invasion. Find me a human, and I will find a game that can addict them.” So, games are just an opium for the masses?

I hate it when a good game is described as “addicting.” Call it compelling. Call it irresistible. Call it riveting, spellbinding, or anything else your thesaurus can throw at it.

But don’t compare games to mere drugs. While some games might aim that low, many more don’t.

And as awesome as our medium is, art is art. We’re not “beyond art.” We’re just a different form of art. An awesome form of art, to be sure, but I’m still going to call it art.

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