Shaped reviewed in The Indie Game Magazine

Eric and I just received a pleasant surprise – our game Shaped has been reviewed by The Indie Game Magazine!

Alex Wilkinson writes:

“Today’s title really is one to slow everything down and relax a little. I am going to look at a game from the rather aptly named Send More People indie development duo. Much like yesterday todays game is going to be rather abstract also, but it is wonderful. Shaped is a very atmospheric vector based exploration game, the ambient music gives this game the atmosphere and it works quite nicely. Much like OsmosShaped is all about the audio creating a wonderful ambiance to the game overall.

You begin the game with a basic tutorial to just get you up and running. Not much really needs to be explained as the controls are very straightforward but the real task is to evolve without hitting the other shapes. The goal is to reach your partner shape floating out in space, this is done by using a ping system to locate them in this huge arena.

The graphics are all vector based and very simplistic, this however adds a nice take on the game. With the excellent audio that is continually played over the game the whole mood of Shaped is a very interesting, relaxed and spacy one. The audio really is the key to making this game so good, and with audio often being the first thing sacrificed it was great to see a game that really embraced the audio element (yes I know this was from LD22 which was all about the audio but still).

Average play time – 8 minutes

If you are looking for a title to really suck you in and take you away from the grim days realities Shaped is for you. It is a great abstract game with a heavy focus on audio which I love and although slightly challenging at parts the gameplay is overall very relaxing. Shaped can be played here and the official site for Send More People is here.”

I just want to say how thrilled I am that we were mentioned in the same sentence as Hemisphere game’s wonderful title, Osmos. Back before I even thought about making a game of my own I played the beta version of Osmos and loved it. I even wrote an entry for the Giantbomb wiki – its been edited heavily since then, but Eddy from Hemisphere got in touch and offered me a steam version of the game. Osmos has absolutely killer sound design – very ethereal pings, and swishes, and a soundtrack featuring an excellent ambient band called Loscil.

In other news, if you haven’t noticed, we’ve delayed the iOS and Android releases of Shaped for another week or so. We detected one last glitch in the game that we could not release the game with… so we resubmitted the app to the the iOS appstore and restarted the 10 day review clock.

Meanwhile, though, if you’re interested – you should check out the free online build of Shaped. Just another week to go till mobile launch!



Humble beginnings of the Frame-Slot system

Hey All,

Eric here. I’m going to give a glimpse at the humble beginnings of our new building system. So, my goal today was to get a rough prototype up and running for the Frame-Slot system. I just wanted to prove to myself and Derek that it worked. So I made a simple Frame and a placeholder Module. In the empty spaces of the Frame, I have trigger colliders called Slots that look for things tagged as “Module.” When the Frame’s Slots detect a Module, they activate a function on the Module’s script. This function makes the Module assume the position and rotation of the Slot, ditches the Module’s rigidbody, and parents itself to the Frame. It is rough and jerky at this point, but we can make the transition smoother in the future. I then made sure that it worked on all 6 sides of the Frame, which it did. When I attached the current Satellite Dish mesh to the Module, it snapped into place just as easily. This was rad because it confirmed, to me at least, that this was the right building system for Drift.

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In the end, Derek and I will make various different types of Frames, which can be used on their own or snapped together with other Frames to form interesting ship structures, and then these Frames will be filled in with even more varieties of Modules. Each Module type will have a different look and function. So, for example, one Module could be a window, another an exit & entrance hatch, another is an oxygen generator, and some just may be different types of walls. By placing these Modules where you want on the Frames, players can create a ship that suits them aesthetically and serves their purposes functionally. Because Frames can be combined with other Frames, players who started with a small dinky craft can build up into a massive starship or space station.

Now that we know ‘it works,’ Derek is going to work on designing Modules and Frames. I’m going to continue polishing up the system and adding some gameplay and visual tweaks to make it feel just right.

Stay tuned!

Playing with Friends and New Meshes

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Eric and I made a great breakthrough in the past few days: we got a build of Drift working with multiplayer. The two of us are living on two separate coasts of the U.S., so that gives me a lot of pleasure. We’re able to play the game together as we make it.

Another breakthrough: the 3D design software Blender has previously been a huge hassle for us. In the past its free, but largely opaque. Just recently, though, we’ve run across a few tutorials that allowed us to build (very slightly) more complicated. Here’s the one that helped me learn about booleans.

Very encouraging stuff. I am learning more and experimenting with blender. Next step – more complicated meshes, and texture mapping.


Ludum Dare Postmortem (by Eric)

What Went Right:

1) Small and Simple: Simplicity and a small scope is absolutely vital for a small, two-person indie team like ours. Shaped was created for a Ludum Dare game jam, which meant we had to take the game from concept to publishing in 48 hours (it is normally 72 hours, but we could not work on Monday). This small timeframe forced us to keep the game super tiny, meaning one environment, and über simple, meaning just a few mechanics. When the creative juices are flowing, its easy to get swept away in the tide and end up with a game concept far too ambitious to finish yet too beloved to compromise. This has happened to me with more game ideas than I would like to admit. Luckily, our short deadline forced us to reject ideas, no matter how great, if they would add more than 30 minutes to our production time. While Shaped is a short game, it is a complete one. Completion, we’ve found, is crucial for morale. If you are a small team like ours, I cannot recommend simplicity and limited scope highly enough.

2) Good Team Dynamic: Derek’s already said much the same in his post mortem, but it remains true nevertheless. Having people with whom you can be productive and simultaneously have a good time with is key. Not only does it keep the energy and optimism up, but it creates an comfortable atmosphere where all ideas and feelings can be expressed and considered. Most of my ideas are utterly bad, but Derek will always genuinely consider them as if they were great ones. Perhaps more importantly, he will give me honest criticisms which I can take without clamming up and getting defensive. What it boils down to is respect and the right attitude. With Shaped, we kept the environment fun and supportive and that really contributed to swift decision-making, quality work, and a fun development process.

3) Unity3D: Having never taken a computer science course in my life, I find it somewhat strange that I ended up as the programmer. What I have taught myself over the past few years,  I largely credit to Unity3D and its superb community. The visual nature of the engine allows for non-code-savvy teammates to understand and contribute to the process without having to look at a line of code. This also helps self-taught programmers like myself to understand what, in general, my code is doing. The way in which variables are displayed and the ability to adjust them during gameplay helped us both hone and test player and NPC behaviors until they felt just right. Lastly, the ease with which we could import assets from one another and get them up and running was incredibly valuable given our brief timeline. Other than a brief moment of glitch-induced panic due to hosting our Unity project files on Dropbox, the entire process of building with Unity was streamlined and fast. It is for these reasons and many others that we will be sticking with Unity for the foreseeable future.

4) Give Yourself Audience: This one may sound weird but filming our process really helped us to not only feel like “real” game developers but it also made the process more fun in general. Even if it is a Youtube video that nobody but you will ever watch, positioning yourself as ifthere was an audience really helps you to stay on task. Instead of treating the game development process as something that maybe comes after a few episodes of your favorite TV show, filming it gave us an audience (however imaginary) that we had to answer to and work for. I guess it’s where the adage, “Fake it till you make it” comes in. You and your team may not be Valve yet but if you treat the game development process as if you were that awesome, you probably stand a greater chance of finishing your game than if you think you and your game idea is unimportant and unnoticed. For Shaped, Derek and I did a live stream as well as a time-lapse using Gawker and it kept us honest. It also made the process more far enjoyable. Why? I will not speak for Derek, but for me it was vanity. There is something rewarding about being on screen and feeling like you are important and, hell, if you can harness some of that vanity to make your game development process more enjoyable, do it. Whatever keeps the ball rolling. If you do not like being on camera, write blog posts and tweets. You may find more people are following the development process than you think.

What Went Wrong:

Derek and I had such a positive experience with Shaped that it is a little hard to find things we did wrong. Perhaps we just didn’t have enough time to make significant blunders, or maybe I am still just riding the high. The few I could think of are below.

1) The Cold: Stay warm, your code-per-minute rate and immune system will thank you.

2) Not understanding 3D programs very well: I think if Derek and I had more of a grasp of 3D programs like Blender, 3DSMax, or Maya, we would have had accurate colliders for the more difficult shapes instead of primitive colliders that come with Unity. Getting knocked down a level in Shaped by an invisible sphere collider far outside the edge of an NPC’s visible edge is frustrating and, in the end, inexcusable.

3) Space-Heaters Don’t Burn Down Villages…Actually, they could so please follow the directions: Did I mention that weekend was as cold as the windswept plains of northern Skyrim? Well it was, and you know how the Frost spell slows you down as well as causes damage? Well, the cold room was like that on my hands and joints as I tried to code. I felt like Tin-man without his oil-can.

All in all, our experience creating Shaped for Ludum Dare 22 was a superb experience and has really inspired us both to pursue game development as a living. Stay tuned for more games from Send More People! Good luck with your games!!!