2010
01.20

Welcome!

Welcome to Rabid Squirrel Games!

We try to bring gamers fun and innovative games that have a certain panache to them. As an independent game studio, we enjoy participating in the indie game development community, and trying to use the freedom the indie game scene provides to innovate and be a bit offbeat (maybe even quirky!).

The team (mostly just David now) is currently busy working on a few iPhone games, but since we are using the Unity3D game engine, we can also develop for PC, Mac OS, Unity Web Player, and Wii.

We also offer our services as a game development consulting company. If you are interested in working with us, either commercially or with free projects, please contact us by using this form: (CLICK HERE!)

2011
07.17

Hello friends!

We are having a summer sale on Waffle Queen for iOS!  One week only!

For the first two days (July 18-19) the game is FREE for the first time ever!
Then the game is 50% off for $0.99 for the rest of the week!

And to go buy the game, please click here!
www.bit.ly/WQ_AppStore

Check out our hot new trailer:

Thanks and have fun!

2010
10.19

Well, I said something delicious was coming…few things could be more delicious than waffles!
And they are coming to the App Store in your pocket soon!
We submitted Waffle Queen to both the 2011 Independent Games Festival and the Apple App store tonight!

Here is the official gameplay demonstration video submitted along with the rest of our IGF submission:

It has been a rough eight weeks as Whitney and I have been frantically building this game to hit the IGF deadline.
Hopefully, when we are better rested after this crazy crunch, we will have a post mortem and post it here for you to enjoy.

2010
09.06

Well, this Labor Day weekend has been interesting so far.  I took a wacky prototype I made a few months ago and started fleshing it out.  Now it is turning into a full blown action puzzle game!  Oh Nos!  I won’t say what the title is yet because I still need to register the domain, but I can tell you this game is going to be delicious! ;-)

This game will be released for iPhone/iPod/iPad and is being built with the Cocos2D engine.
At this point, design is 100% complete.  Tech is around 60% complete.  Art and sound, of course, are about 20% complete.  Once I’ve completely implemented all the features on the MUST HAVE list, I’ll do a playtest, fine tune some things, and start cranking out art & sound.  Then, you all can partake of the deliciousness!

Rabid Squirrel Games might FINALLY be able to enter the Independent Games Festival this year.
October 18 is the deadline, so this game must be done by then to enter!  CRUNCH MODE IS GO!

2010
04.11

As many of you know, we are developing not one, but TWO games for iPhone using the Unity engine.
Sadly, for us, it seems Apple’s new terms of service in iPhone OS4 may ban Unity from the iPhone.
If this is the case, we are sticking with Unity and moving to Android as our mobile platform of choice.
This is precisely why we chose Unity – build once, deploy on multiple platforms.  If one platform dies, then you don’t have a big pile of wasted work.

Who knows, maybe Apple will let Unity stay on the iPhone.  I surely hope so, but the TOS are pretty clear.  Unless Apple changes the TOS again, Unity seems to violate them.

Regardless of what happens, we’ll continue to make fun games with or without Apple, so don’t worry! :-)

2010
03.26

How to Form an LLC

Last night, I gave a presentation at the Pittsburgh IGDA “Lightning Talks” event.  A Lightning Talk is effectively the same thing as the GDC Microtalks: speakers get exactly five minute to present a topic and you quickly jump to the next person.  The goal is to be exposed to a lot of different topics quickly and if you need more information, talk to the ones that interested afterwards.  If you don’t like a talk or it doesn’t apply to you…hey, you only lost five minutes! :-)

I originally wanted to present on Unity, but I got talked into going over the basics of forming an LLC.  It’s not really that hard: you just fill out three forms (federal, state, city) and write a check.  It’s easier if you are a single-member LLC, like me, but adding partners is a breeze too.  You simply fill in more names on the forms!

Well, I’ve rambled enough.  Thanks to all that came out and talked to me afterwards.  Here are the slides with all the links to the forms and a PA “Starting a Business Guide.”  Keep in mind this is just  a VERY quick guide…I may have missed something so be sure to read up on it as you go.  Good luck!

How to form an LLC (PDF)

2010
01.01

The Unity (formerly Unity3D) game engine is quickly becoming the de-facto standard for many Flash and Indie game developers wanting to make 3D games.  Now that the Unity Editor runs on Windows and has a free Indie license (both untrue last year), it is poised to become ever more popular.  However, Unity is first and foremost a 3D engine, so it stands to reason that it should not support many of the facets of building a 2D game.  In reality, though, it actually works really well as a 2D engine if you set up your scene and scripts properly.  You can have a pixel perfect orthographic camera, collisions around your sprites, and even physics.  Where it lacks 2D game engine power, however, is in the sprite animation department.  There is no easy way to animate your sprites.  This is where Sprite Manager 2 by Above and Beyond Software (www.anbsoft.com) comes in to save the day.

Sprite Manager 2 (SM2) is an easy-to-use middleware that works with all licenses of Unity (free, Pro, iPhone).  It takes creating and animating sprites in the engine out of the hands of your programmers and into the hands of your designers and artists via a Unity Editor plugin.  You simply include the SM2 package in your project, attach a script to a GameObject you wish to have a sprite animation, and use the Unity Editor’s Inspector to set up the animation frames and settings for each animation.  There is a Sprite Timeline Editor that lets you drag & drop your animation frames (one per file, which is kind of annoying) into the editor and build an animation.  SM2 even has a number of features to let you use frames that are all different sizes and still make the animation look smooth.  All of this without a single line of code on your part!

SM2 Timeline

Of course, there is an API that programmers can use to check the status of the animation and control the sprite animations (play, pause, stop, etc).  Most of the heavy lifting for setting up the sprites is in the Unity Editor.  As a game programmer first, game designer second, I must say that it is nice to be able to focus on making a game fun (isn’t that what we are all doing here?) and not making a game framework.

Sprite Manager 2 has some excellent features under that great interface hood as well.  It takes all of the sprite animation frames you give it and automatically builds a single optimized sprite sheet for each sprite.  Now, all of your sprite’s animation frames are in one file, and SM2 is smart enough to reuse frames and not duplicate them.  This saves a lot of space, and if you are developing for iPhone, you know that space is limited as you try to stay under the 10MB 3G network download limit.  In addition, SM2 utilizes the iPhone’s dynamic batching system which helps minimize the number of draw calls that need to be made.  This feature alone is a must-have for iPhone developers doing 2D since Unity, left to it’s own devices, will make many draw calls for every sprite.  You will find your 100 frames per second frame rate drops to 15fps on the iPhone quickly!

SM2 Sprite Sheet

With all the positives, there are a few SM2 negatives, however.  The most prominent being that each frame of the sprite animation must be saved as a separate file.  This forces you to adjust your art pipeline to fit accordingly.  You may need to develop some simple scripts to make this process smoother for your artists.  Another minor annoyance is that once you add animations to your sprite, they are stuck in that order unless you want to do it over again.  For example, one of the settings in the editor is the “number of the default animation.”  So if you add your default animation as the 10th animation in the list, you need adjust your setting to equal 10, which is confusing considering it should be 0 (the first in the list).  One final gripe is that the documentation provided is a little lacking.  The scripting API is fully documented, and the tutorial steps you through how to setup a sprite animation (all good things, by the way).  However, there is no documentation on HOW to use the API properly.  This could pose a problem for beginner game programmers.  It would be nice to have an example script showing how to swap between animations in a gameplay setting would be nice.  Luckily, A&B has excellent tutorial videos on their site and they participate actively in the Unity community, so help should be easily obtained.

Since everyone loves concise lists, here’s a Pros/Cons list to help summarize:

Pros:

  • Unity Editor plugin lets you build and edit your sprite animations visually, not in code
  • Automatically generates an optimized sprite sheet (great for iPhone size limitations)
  • One draw call and batching sprites for great performance (great for iPhone performance)
  • Sprite timeline editor lets you create animations frame by frame for excellent frame reuse and fine animation control
  • No coding to get sprite animations into your game!
  • Auto-resize and anchoring lets you have oddly shaped sprite frames that work together

Cons:

  • Each frame of an animation must be saved out as a separate file, which adds overhead for artists
  • You cannot re-order the animations once they are added to the sprite’s GameObject
  • The scripting API documentation could pose a problem for beginning game programmers

Sprite Manager 2 fills an empty niche in the Unity platform by providing an optimized, easy-to-use, and cost effective solution for 2D sprite animations in your game.  The current price is $75 for a single seat, and $275 for an unlimited seat studio license.  It is worth more than $75 considering how many man-hours it will save your team.  Overall, the robust feature set heavily outweighs the minor grievances of pipeline adjustment and documentation.

If I were on some rating website, I’d give it 5/5 stars.

2009
08.10

The other day, I was writing the script and storyboarding my iPhone game’s cutscenes and got annoyed that all the storyboarding templates were in 4:3 or 16:9 format.  So I made one that fits the iPhone’s 320×480 resolution.  Here it is for all to use!  Click the image below to get the full version.

Enjoy!

storyboard_small

2009
08.08

Over the years, I’ve played several MMOs. Partly for fun, but also for research since I work on them!  I started playing the Champions Online beta this week and was having a blast.  Then one of my friends logged on and I wanted to join him so we could play together.  Sadly, I couldn’t find any way to just teleport to him.  I’m not sure if the feature is there and hidden by an obfuscated interface, or if I’m just daft.  I hope it’s there somewhere.

Let’s face it.  Traveling from place to place is usually pretty boring once you’ve gotten to know the game and the world a bit.  After the initial “ooos!” and “aaahs!” over the pretty landscape have passed, all that is left is the ticking timer saying you have ten minutes before you arrive at your destination.

One of the major draws of an MMO is playing with your friends (both real life and online).  Some people simply don’t have all evening to play, and spending 30 minutes traveling is time you could be spending kicking butt with your buddies.  So, why not just let players teleport to their friends?  Sometimes, there are technical reasons, but these can almost always be overcome (depending on server architecture).  Sometimes, there are design reasons like the desire to gate how many players are actually in a zone at a time to ensure the world isn’t too crowded.

When we were building Pixie Hollow, one of the first things we decided was to enable players to teleport to their friends.  This decision was partly made because the demographic could easily grasp the concept, and partly because it’s just a fun thing to do. You are, after all, playing a magical flying Fairy!  We experimented with the server a bit, and were finally able to teleport with ease.  There really weren’t many technical problems because the server architecture was so flexible.

Naturally, there are design headaches associated with allowing players to teleport, at any time, to their friends.  Any time we added a feature in Pixie Hollow, we had to ask: “Will teleporting to friends break this feature?”  Often, we had to design around this problem.  A good example of this is the fairy parties.  We had to build functionality that checked to see if someone could be teleported to, and explain to the player requesting teleport that “you can’t fly to that Fairy right now.”  In some prototypes, we actually disabled the friends list so you could not initiate a teleport.  Even though it took more time for the whole team, the teleport to friend feature is useful and seems to be pretty popular among the players.  This feature was definitely time well spent!

Of course, teleporting to your friends does not completely solve the boring travel problem, but it helps.  At least you can team up with your friends quickly and start playing rather than wasting time sitting on a giant bird while you go make a sandwich. Ideally, a combination of making normal travel fun and teleporting to friends could be implemented.  Champions Online did a pretty good job with the first one.  Their Fast Travel powers are really fun and keep traveling interesting (at least for now). However, like I said before, they need some way to teleport to friends.  Games with multiple shards you can move across (like Champions), only make tracking down your friends harder.

In summary, MMOs are really fun with your friends and spending a bunch of time tracking down what shard they are on, and traveling to them is not much fun.  As players become more accustomed to concepts like shards and multiple instances, and the server technology advances, more MMOs should allow players to teleport to each other.  Sure there are design and technical challenges, but the rewards to the players are well worth the extra effort.

2009
07.25
As my side project (code-named METAL) progresses, I found the need to start looking for hosting solutions.  The game will have a server backend and I don’t think the old server in my basement will cut it if the game actually succeeds and I get more than 100 players.  It turns out that hosting companies are starting to realize that many games have servers now even if it’s just to authenticate you bought the game.  Server Beach, for example, offers high-performance, low-latency, game servers.  Are they any different than their normal web hosting servers? Possibly.  They might tune their data center networks to give the game server traffic a bit of a speed boost.  Lag in online games kills more than just your toon!

It is interesting to watch the game industry shifting from server-less to server-required.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  Kyle at 2DBoyestimated that 90% of the people playing their game, World of Goo, was pirated.  Pirates can claim they don’t want to hurt the little guys, and want to stick it to the man, but 2DBoy consists of two guys working at home and coffee shops using cat soap for shampoo because they can’t afford it.  So, that particular pirate rational is incorrect.  They pirate it because they can. Period.

DRM doesn’t work either.  It only hurts the honest players who buy the game.  The pirates don’t have to deal with annoying rules, requiring you to be online, popup reminders, DRM bugs, etc.  I know people who buy the game and then go download the “no CD” cracks so they can remove the DRM annoyances.

To solve this problem? Make the game online-only.  Make “broadband Internet” a requirement on the box just like a CPU and RAM spec.  You can’t play the game unless you are logged into a server that keeps a tight leash around your game client.  Even better, make sure that half of the game logic is done on the server so that unless someone reverse engineers and builds a server, the game client players have is useless.  Eventually, if services like OnLive take off, the entire game will run on a server somewhere in the cloud.  You’ll send input and you’ll receive a video stream of the simulation.

This is one reason so many companies are starting MMOs and online-only games: guaranteed money.  And with the high piracy rates, and used game market eating into new sales profits, who can blame developers and publishers?  Games are expensive to make, companies are small, and if you don’t at least break even on the game you just made, your company is probably finished.  Game developers may work crazy hours for little pay, but they still need to eat and support their families they never see.

As the need for game server hosting rises, it will be interesting to see how hosting companies like Server Beach will compete for the market.
Will they offer more monthly bandwidth at a low cost?  Actually train their employees to provide operations for your game for a fee? Only time will tell.