Last night I went to the Seattle Unity meetup. It started with Carl Callewaert giving a talk on Unity. Carl is Unity’s product evangelist, he went over quite a few subjects, including making use of the asset store, and covered some interesting products that have been built with Unity that are not games.
After Carl finished his talk, Jamie Fristrom gave a talk on Energy Hook and Kickstarter, you can check out the project here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/551129138/energy-hook-0. Jamie is an industry veteran who spent a large portion of his career at Treyarch, and was a key developer on the popular Spiderman 2 title, directly contributing to the the swinging mechanics the game became known for. Jamie went indie / stay at home father a few years ago, and has worked on some live arcade and Playstation Vita titles. He mentioned that he started on this Energy Hook project with Unity about a year ago, and the Kickstarter was launched on May 9th.
I have had a strong interest in Kickstarter for a while now, and my notes are mostly Kickstarter focused, and most of the questions asked in the Q&A were Kickstarter related. When Jamie launched the Kickstarter campaign, he reached out to Rock Paper Shotgun, and got some strong early positive press with this article http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/05/10/spider-man-too-energy-hook-launches-1-kickstarter/. With ⅓ to ½ of his working hours spent marketing the Kickstarter, he was also lucky enough to get some unexpected press that pushed a lot of backers to his project, with this Penny Arcade Report article being a strong contributor http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/article/the-guy-who-made-spider-man-2-a-modern-masterpiece-adds-jetpacks-to-the-swi. Twitter was also a big referrer, if you hit the right people. He got small boosts from other places, such as an “ask me anything” on Reddit. He leaned hard on his work on Spiderman 2 to market the project, and reached out to other gaming press he knew were fans of the title, including Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame.
A controversial part of the Kickstarter was the $1 goal. Everyone has a different opinion of what Kickstarter should be, and how funding and goals should work. Jamie felt that the $1 goal was appropriate, he was going to eventually finish this game no matter what, he just wanted some extra money to help him get there, and would take whatever he could get. He also mentioned the Purple Cow by Seth Godin. By having such an outlandish goal, it made his Kickstarter a bit of a purple cow, something uniquethat was able to make his Kickstarter different than other video game Kickstarters.
Someone asked why Wii U was a potential platform for Energy Hook. Nintendo has become very indie friendly with the Wii U, and will work with developers to get them access to Unity licenses and get them Wii U development hardware at a price that fits their budget. Other platforms were asked about, such as the Ouya and other mobile devices, and Energy Hook is too performance intensive for mobile.
A common challenge for most indie developers is actually sitting down and working. When you’re at home, there are a lot of distractions. Jamie mentioned that he built himself a routine to start working, down to a very specific coffee mug to start his working day with. He also mentioned the “Stay Focused” chrome plug-in helps keep web based distractions at bay, available here https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/stayfocusd/laankejkbhbdhmipfmgcngdelahlfoji?hl=en.
When it came to acquiring his assets, he had some friends contribute things such as the large crane, but most of his buildings came from the service formerly known as Google Warehouse, and now is Trimble 3D Warehouse located here http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/. This was a large reason why his project was so performance intensive, the models supplied by this service are not optimized for games, and feature many unique meshes and textures for every building, greatly bumping up draw call counts. It also has lead to a bit of visual inconsistency in art style, as the buildings do not all match up in style with each other. This did lead toward the inclusion of an art makeover as a stretch goal for the project.
Testing came up as a topic. Unity and C# both make it difficult to introduce crash bugs and other major bugs to your project, and in general Unity projects just have less bugs introduced through development than many developers are used to with the more classic C++ and custom engine driven development. Modern game development also allows you to leverage the passion of fans for test support, almost every Kickstarter offer tiers that let people who pledge get access to the game at earlier stages of development, and generally these fans are willing to report bugs they find, aiding the developer. As for unit testing and building a game that way, Jamie mentioned that a previous project he worked on he applied unit test driven patterns, and felt that it greatly increased the development time on the project, and lead to many false positives, he did not see much benefit from that style of development. Test driven development works for products that have static design, but a reality of game development is the design and intention of systems can and do change often, so when unit tests failed, it was often because the design changed and that was a false failure.
After the Q&A there was a little bit of time for just hanging out and talking to people. Fortunately the organizers of the Seattle meetup are able to find places nice to host these meetups, but often this means that there is a strict time limit that the Unity meetup group can be in these spaces, keeping the time available to chat with other developers at these meetups pretty short. I also did not have a huge amount of time to hang out afterwards, Thursday night is the night that I meet up with former coworkers at a bar, and needed to get over to that after the Unity meetup.
I did manage to talk to a few people, including the developers behind the City Quest Kickstarter project available here http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1376534446/city-quest-a-point-and-click-adventure. City Quest is a nifty looking adventure game, but my favorite part of my conversation with Ryan Nohr was when he mentioned that they implemented Oculus Rift support into City Quest. Being a 2D sidescrolling adventure game, it seems like there would be no room for support for the virtual reality device. The City Quest developers came up with a novel way to get the Rift implemented: a three dimensional environment of a bedroom, when you are using the Rift you are playing City Quest on a computer within this bedroom.
I highly recommend you go to a Unity meetup if you can. There are awesome people of every skill and knowledge level to talk to, and it is always exciting to be in a room with a group of creative people passionate about any subject. The monthly talks cover many different subjects and levels of technical expertise.