Retrobooster Demo Updated to Version 0.7.8

October 17, 2013 by Terry

This is the biggest update yet, mainly because there is a new in-game interface, a new ship model, and Levels 1 and 2 have been expanded. The tutorial got some new material as well. Grab your copy from the downloads page. If you like it, please support it on Steam Greenlight. Here are the details:

  • New in-game interface. Text is bigger and easier to read on small screens. Everything is a bit flashier.
  • New ship model. The new model is 20% bigger for visibility and difficulty tuning. It’s sexier too.
  • Expanded the tutorial and Levels 1 and 2 in order to better teach some game mechanics.
  • Added rumble support for game controllers. My Logitech controller still isn’t rumbling under Windows for some reason, but it works under Linux. Need to work on that.
  • Ship integrity and shields are now restored when you beat a level.
  • Dolly-zoom effect added when spawning a new ship.
  • In co-op games, all players now share the same score.
  • Sound effects pause when game is paused.
  • Plenty of cosmetic tweaks and gameplay tweaks as usual.
  • Made humans more interactive. Watch the video:

There have been a lot of good suggestions coming in from testers, so I have been doing a lot of level refinement lately. This includes the changes to the early levels you see in the demo. One big change is the addition of material that gets players accustomed to using the laser on the nose of the ship. It is useful for distinguishing the foreground from the background and can cue players in on whether or not they can fly past an object on screen. About half of the testers were figuring this out, but the other half were getting frustrated by not understanding how useful the laser can be.

Another big change to several levels was to remove the challenge where you need to rescue all the humans to unlock the level exit. Rescuing humans is an old school game convention, but not everyone seems to know about it anymore. So there is more training on rescuing humans on Level 1, and rescuing humans is now a local challenge some places–not a whole-level challenge.

Humans are also more interactive now. In previous versions they could be crushed and set on fire. Now they can also be knocked of cliffs and plummet to their screaming deaths. The deaths also look juicier now.

Progress Report – New Ship and Stuff

October 4, 2013 by Terry

Retrobooster is coming along nicely, and I am now deep into level refinement based on tester feedback. There has been plenty of subjective feedback coming in, but there isn’t enough objective data yet. Objective data comes in the form of files that record things like where players die, how many tokens they collect, and how long it takes to complete each level. More of this type of data would be very useful for tuning the difficulty of each level and the overall game. Subjective comments from testers, on the other hand, have elucidated which parts of the game are the most frustrating or confusing.

This video shows some of the recent visual changes that have been taking place. Note the new player ship model and the new in-game interface design.

Nobody ever liked the previous ship model, myself included. But it was always a first draft. The new ship is faceted instead of rounded, which sets it apart from the alien ships. It still has a plausible arrangement of rocket engines that look as if they could actually be propelling it. The addition of some nav lights (similar to what you would find on any aircraft from Earth) makes it appear much more man-made and provides some contrast to help show its shape and movement. Let me know what you think of the new design in the comments.

The in-game interface was outdated as well. The main problem was that the text was too hard to read on small laptop screens or when playing split-screen multiplayer. The old interface was packed into the upper left corner of the screen, but enlarging it would have made it much too big for one corner. Now the different parts of the interface are spread around the screen, and the graphics have been enhanced.

The star field backgrounds got an overhaul as well. The old star field texture was sourced from photographs, which resulted in some very splotchy stars. The new texture was hand drawn in Gimp such that it would work well with the star field shader. The new stars are much more round (not splotchy), and the shader has been updated to make them twinkle a little.

Levels 1 and 2 just got heavily modified to try to clear up some player confusion. Many players do not know what to do with the humans running around on the ground and do not realize their ship’s laser pointer can be used to distinguish foreground objects from background objects. I’ll probably change all the levels that have their exits open up when you rescue all the humans. I still like that mechanic, but it confuses people and will probably work better on a smaller scale. For example, there will be individual rooms that work that way instead of entire levels.

Anyway, that’s about all that is going on with Retrobooster. Some milestones driving all this work are preparation to submit Retrobooster to IGF, the next playable demo update, and the next full game update for testers. A couple days ago I received an invitation to use the Humble Store widget for sales, so I plan to take advantage of that and start taking pre-orders pretty soon. That will probably happen shortly after the IGF submission, which is due October 19.

The free downloadable demo has been updated. Get it here.

  • Bug fixed: Fixed crash that would occur sometimes when starting a Deathmatch game.
  • Bug fixed: Mouse was spinning ship too fast at framerates below 60Hz.
  • Bug fixed: Shield energy could go below zero, so gaining shield energy would have no apparent effect.
  • Fixed lighting on humans. They were unlit by dynamic point lights before.
  • Gave humans flashlights and signal flares so they are easier to spot on small screens.
  • Made humans smarter so they flee from enemies and debris that might crush them.
  • Rebalanced difficulty settings, score multipliers, and rate of token distribution to give out more tokens.
  • Added “brute force” score multiplier when ramming enemies to death.
  • Updated OpenSceneGraph to version 3.2, removing some deprecated OpenGL slow-path code.
  • Upgraded from SDL 1.2 to SDL 2.0.
  • Mouse now ignores acceleration in Windows and controls rotation linearly. If you thought the mouse control was finicky before, try it again now. (This was never a problem in Linux.)
  • Made major changes to the rendering pipeline. Best performance improvements for multiplayer games.
  • Added anti-aliasing choice to Settings menu.
  • Better depth cueing to help distinguish foreground from background.
  • Added customizable menu navigation buttons to USB game controllers.
  • Shader optimizations.

This demo update is marked by big infrastructure changes. Not only has Retrobooster been upgraded to OpenSceneGraph 3.2 and SDL 2.0, but the rendering pipeline has been overhauled. In previous versions, the glow effect was rendered as a separate pass and then applied to the frame. Now, the main image and glow image are rendered to separate textures simultaneously. After processing the glow texture to make it glowy, both images are combined and rendered to the framebuffer at the same time. This gives more flexibility to the glow effect and balances performance better.

The performance changes caused by this rendering pipeline change were not straightforward. The best overall performance gain was seen on NVidia graphics. Single player performance got better on some platforms and worse on others. Performance for 4-player games improved significantly on all platforms that were tested. On average there was a performance improvement and a reduction in the performance difference between 1- and 4-player games.

SDL has moved on to version 2.0, which is really a complete rewrite of SDL. It appears there won’t be any new development on the 1.2 branch, so using SDL 2.0 is the way to get all future SDL improvements. It does a few things more cleanly already, such as not absorbing your desktop mouse acceleration into the game. If you use a very high mouse acceleration in Windows, this may make mouse control feel a lot better. After some more bugs are worked out I should even be able to add gamepad rumble support.

The Greenlight Supershow Experience

July 16, 2013 by Terry

My head needed time to stop spinning after trying to absorb fourteen straight hours of indie game screencasts and conversations between developers, hosts, YouTube personalities, and gamers. Alix and Calvin, the duo behind Legend of Dungeon, decided to give something back to the gaming community after having their game greenlit on Steam Greenlight. In one herculean effort, they conceived, planned, and executed the most ambitious online showcase of indie games ever. The Greenlight Supershow was a marathon of game demonstrations and discussion on Twitch. A new game each half hour for thirteen hours, plus some pre-show and post-show madness. This is my take on the whole experience.

Retrobooster was on the waiting list for a couple weeks because I heard about the show too late. Nine days before the show, Alix emailed and told me the 10:30pm slot had opened up. Some of the games on the list had been greenlit and were making room for new games. After all, the whole point of the show was to help promote games that had yet to be greenlit.

Preparation was much more complicated for RobotLovesKitty than for me. They were organizing participants and guest hosts, figuring out how to screencast twenty-six games, getting media attention, and innumerable other things I don’t know about. All I had to do was send them my game, write some notes on what to talk about, and email some press contacts. Active all week was a Skype chat room for the developers with games in the show. We covered plenty of topics: how to best present our games, who was contacting who in the games press, and cats on keyboards. Or was is lunch on keyboards? It was a pleasure to meet so many people with the same career goals. These people just want to make a living making games.

The show was to be on a Saturday. Hype was building the whole week before the show, and I saw an increase in Greenlight votes starting on Monday. There were articles published on news sites, such as Joystiq, Polygon, Indie-Love, and PixelProspector. The fellow who runs PixelProspector is actually the one who recommended that I contact Alix in the first place.

Alix put together a stunning list of guest hosts. Really, I was amazed. I didn’t realize how many there would be until the show was underway. She pulled in Alex Coccia, Landon Durnan, Jesse Cox, Ryan Letourneau, Nick Reineke, and Josh Mattingly. I had met Josh briefly at GDC, and he was the one who ended up playing my game live. I didn’t even know he would be on the show until about halfway through.

Watch live video from robotloveskitty on TwitchTV

Following the show, the traffic and votes on Retrobooster’s Greenlight page saw a modest spike, which is about what I expected. I suspect the real value from participating in a show like this comes from all the contacts you make in the gaming press and among other developers. Just this morning Alex Coccia reported his impressions of my game in this Retrobooster preview, and Pedro Mateus has inaugurated his Linux Let’s Play series with Retrobooster.

All that I’m saying here boils down to the Rule of Seven, which is an old marketing concept that says someone must see your product seven times before they take action and buy it. Of course, the number seven isn’t set in stone, but you can bet people need to hear about your game a lot more than once before they really notice it. Fortunately, the indie games community and gaming press are so active that the Rule of Seven is a realistic goal even for indie developers with no marketing budget. As proof, I offer the Greenlight Supershow. In how many industries would something like it ever happen?

The Greenlight Supershow is Coming Up

June 22, 2013 by Terry

Retrobooster is going to be featured on The Greenlight Supershow on June 29 at 7:30pm PDT / 10:30pm EDT. It is a meaty thirteen hour webshow that will have gameplay and discussion of a bunch of indie games. RobotLovesKitty, the makers of Legend of Dungeon, are putting this show together to help these indie games draw more attention to their Steam Greenlight campaigns. If you want to get a head start, go vote for Retrobooster on Greenlight right now.

Death Ray

June 18, 2013 by Terry

It’s been a long time coming. There are ten weapons in Retrobooster. One was the mine, which released from the stern of your ship and moved toward enemies before exploding and dealing vast amounts of splash damage. Unfortunately, it was difficult to place where you wanted it and just wasn’t any fun to use. It had to go. So I spent a while trying to think of a replacement weapon. It had to be fun to use and not redundant. The solution: a death ray! I also spent a while trying to think of a better name, but the old school simplicity of “death ray” grew on me and I decided to keep it.

The death ray has a wide spread and limited range, just like the lightning weapon. The big difference is that that the death ray does little damage at a distance and great damage up close. It will be up to the player to decide when and how to best use it. Some enemies are easier to get close to than others, and that will probably be the biggest deciding factor.

It took some work to come up with the right look for this weapon. There are countless ways it could be rendered with regard to colors and atmospheric effects. I also wanted it to look hot and powerful near your ship and weaker at a distance, giving the player a good indication of how the death ray functions. The final appearance will probably get tweaked some more, but this is a good start.

The following is probably a final collection of weapons for Retrobooster. Of course, if any weapon doesn’t work out during testing, it will need to be fixed or replaced.

Primary weapons

  • Ion bolts (Unlimited ammo. This one is always available.)
  • Thermite rounds
  • Lightning
  • Exotic matter slugs
  • Death ray

Secondary weapons

  • Guided missile
  • Defender Drone
  • Ion Storm
  • Widow Maker Drones
  • Tesla Razer