We cannot spare more than a few for such a perilous task

After the problems earlier in the year with Marmalade getting out of the SDK market, I started working on porting Lords of Midnight to Cocos2d. I initially decided to park the games and start on something new to get me going. As it happens that the new thing was The Citadel. I managed to get TME – the Midnight Engine – which is the backend game code that runs both LoM and DDR, up and running. I then worked on the Landscaping technique.
Happy with that working, I dragged the Map data out of The Citadel and started rendering that. The real big issue I needed to address for the Citadel is water, so I started working on that.

I spoke with Jure and he mocked up some potential imagery, so we could get and idea of what it might look like.

I then had a lot of problems with Cocos2D getting it to build under windows, and to be honest, I got a bit disheartened and gave up for a few months. It’s frustrating when the OSX Build all works without any issues, but the code just wouldn’t build on Windows.

Since I’m working closer to home at the moment, I started to get that coding itchy feeling, and so I returned to the game. After a bit of restructuring I managed to get the code compiling on Windows – however, it completely wouldn’t build on OSX anymore. Xcode would completely barf and kill my machine taking up over 52gb of memory!

I spent three evenings trying to get it to work. The upshot of all that pain, is that I seem to be back into my groove…

I spent a bit of time thinking about the whole process, and I’m not sure if it’s because my Facebook feed keeps reminding me of what I was doing five years ago… desperately trying to complete LoM to get it submitted to Apple before the Winter Solstice as it happens, but it feels right to get these games back up and running an ready for any future release.

At the moment I am slowing making my way through every UI screen and rebuilding it under Cocos2d. It’s painful because as powerful as Cocos2d is, the documentation is a complete bag of horse turd. I’m really stumbling around trying to translate the UI Engine I had already built into a new one.

Once I have all the periphery screens complete, I will make my way into the game screens.

I’m not abandoning The Citadel, I’m just taking some time out to get the whole engine fresh again. I’d like to get LoM and DDR released under the new system early next year.

As an aside, the complete progress can be found in the GitHub repository. All the code and assets are there.

Related Posts:

Amazon Underground

amazon-underground-app1A month or two back, Amazon approached me about putting The Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge on their new service. It had just a project name then, and I had to sign a whole host of documents before I was even told watch the service was, and then another whole host of documents when I agreed.

Before deciding that I would, I thought long and hard. Essentially, I never wanted the Midnight games to be advert driven, and I couldn’t see a compelling way to have “in app purchases” that would generate the kind of sales required to support the game, without an amount of work that would be loss leading.

By having the Midnight games as a full purchase game, it has probably stopped it from being installed as many times as it might have been when free, indeed I have seen the spikes when the game has been reduced in price for promotion. But even those extra sales have not amounted to much in the way of cash as the price reduction has obviously hurt.

That said, the games have sold around 30k units which I couldn’t be happier at. That just hasn’t resulted in a great deal of money, in the scheme of things. Rough fag packet calculation, if you take the average price at £2.50, taking into account price reductions, different platforms, and multi-currency, you get a turnover of £75k less Commission 30%, and VAT at 20%, it’s just £37.5k – and divided between Jure and Mike’s family, pretty much a three-way split, I’m looking at £12.5k over 2.5 years. Without doing an accurate calculation, I can say that number feels about right, and it’s still a long way from covering my time costs if I apply a day rate to it.

Android sales of the games are well under a 3rd of Apple, but they appear to have a 10:1 piracy ratio when taking into account rough internal data calculations.

So, as we hit the tail end of sales, I wondered if the Amazon pay-for-play where they pick up the tab, might be an interesting approach for some additional Android sales. The gamble was, will people who won’t buy it on Android, possibly pick it up and play it for a while, enough to generate a small trickle of income, that might be greater than the normal Android sales. This could all possibly be maximised by being an official launch app for the service.

Android still accounts for about £50 a month in sales, this last week has seen and additional £3k units downloaded through Amazon Underground, accounting for less than a £1 worth of pay-for-play. Amazon pay a fraction of a penny per minute played. So not a great start, but I’ll have to see how it goes.

I know the t&c’s for the Amazon offering are a little harsh, and the privacy settings quite extraordinary, but still understandable considering what they need to achieve, however I figure that the target audience who don’t want to pay for the games in the first place, probably don’t care. And those who do, have either already bought the game, or still have the option to through Google Play, or Amazon Store proper.

I just need to keep an eye on whether the Amazon Underground sales hurt the Android sales, better them, or just become another small income stream.

Related Posts:

First week snagging…

20140220-084247.jpgRelease week is always frustrating. On Android I just cannot test on enough devices, so I know that something is always going to bite me, and Monday morning it did. None of my Android testers had had any problems with the game loading, but Monday morning a number of devices were reporting that the game wouldn’t load. Later that night I spent a few fraught hours fighting with hotel WiFi trying to get an update tested by the affected customers, and then released.

In this instance it was an easy fix. In fact, I had already addressed the issue the previous week for the Windows release. Some last minute testing on my Mac Desktop running a windows VM, full screen, highlighted an issue of loading the splash screen. At the high resolution the splash screen was larger than 2048. When this image was being loaded, it was converted into a power-of-two texture and thus a 4096×4096 texture. The texture loader I was using was choking on that. A quick change to the affected images, across all resolutions, resulted in a fix, and a 5mb reduction in app size to boot!

This was the problem that affected some Android devices. So all I needed to do was rebuild the current version for Android and send it back out. In the end, the Android release was probably a lot smoother than The Lords of Midnight.
Continue reading

Related Posts:

No ice, no storm, no sword or shaft shall keep me from thy side

ddr_google_feature_graphic_1024x500

Just in case you missed it… Doomdark’s Revenge is out on all formats.

Related Posts:

Lords of Midnight Graphics

Early on, when Mike and I were starting the process of thinking about how The Lords of Midnight might look, we played around with a few tentative ideas. We spent some time thinking about being in full 3d and then settled on building 3d models of the terrain and rendering them down to 2d. The main reason for this was performance. Mike was worried that we wouldn’t get the fidelity and quality out of realtime 3d that he was looking for. The option was to go for slower renderer to crank up the quality.

We were unable to get anyone who had time to build the models so we continued on with normal 2d images so that we could have the engine up and running and game most of the game complete. We could then drop the correct imagery in at the end.

We obviously couldn’t go with the original graphics. There was just no way that we could keep the blocky originals. First Mike did some hand drawn versions of the originals.

Then he did some coloured versions.

combined1

We could never agree on the coloured versions. I didn’t particularly like them, but we agreed that they were a work in progress and gave us a talking point about what we did and didn’t like about them, and the problems that the approach raised. A proper artist was going to be needed to do them properly.

I wanted to use graphics that I had used in TME. Not the original Lords of Midnight ones, but the graphics that Jure had produced for Doomdark’s Revenge. But I just couldn’t convince Jure to work on the project! 🙂

One of the ideas with the coloured versions was a concept that Mike was calling Ink. With 3d you get lighting. With 2d if you try to do lighting it is usually very flat. Mike’s idea was to give each 2d graphic its own normal map. This would allow the 2d images to have directional lighting. The images would also be made of a very small palette, say 8 colours, and this palette would be expanded to use variants of the colours depending on the lighting etc. The idea is that a terrain is generally only a few colours, it may be many shades of that colour, but still only a few colours. The palette would also be adjusted depending on location, owner, night and day. Things like windows could be lit up at night, and the same graphic could have different lit windows depending on its location.

For a while Mike played with the idea of painting this lighting information onto a 2d image directly to remove the requirement of building models.

citadel x normal

Example of a lighting map.

CityScenesSmall

An early test of a simple model that Mike rendered.

We then played around with some more specific hand drawn images. Chris Webster offered to have a bash at coming up with some ideas. The following show some of these early tests.

In principal Mike liked them, as did I. But we couldn’t agree on them. Mike didn’t like the fact that they hilighted the squat nature of the original graphics. The more realistic hand drawn versions just seemed to enhance the problem. I however, liked it as a style thing… unfortunately we never finally pursued this area to it’s logical conclusion because of time.

After Mike died I started looking at how the images could be drawn by me. Ross Harris handed me a quick filter idea on photoshop. The idea being that the images were more of a medieval painting, which is how Mike always saw the original game. The view was more of a tapestry.

image006

After seeing Ross’ idea, I had a play around with photoshop trying to achieve something that I might be happy with.

characters

Luckily, it was about this time that Jure offered to help bring the project to conclusion!

Jure produced two sets of images. One set that were faithful to the original, and an alternate set that he would have preferred to use. One day I do intend to release a version of the game with the alternative set.

And finally, here is an image of Luxor that I found on Mike’s machine…

Luxor

Related Posts:

The Frozen Gates I shall tear down.

Seven moons from now I, Shareth, Empress of the Icemark, will ride forth to avenge Doomdark, my beloved Father. The Frozen Gates I shall tear down. Midnight I shall lay waste and through the portals of Xajorkith I will pass, triumphant. All shall adore me and despair! Or, if the Moonprince prefers, let him ride to hammer at my door and find defeat more swiftly!

Last night I took a moment to branch the current Lords of Midnight desktop project, and create the Doomdark’s Revenge source tree. The reason I took the desktop project and not the released 1.6 mobile version, is purely because the Desktop and v1.6 Mobile needs to be merged anyway, and I thought that this separate project would be a good opportunity to find out what I broke for mobile in the desktop version. As it happens, not that much!

Jure had already sent me most of the graphics, so this would also act as a good opportunity to create a list of missing art resources. I plugged all the artwork in and created a ddr.tme file. This is the file that links up data from the backend database to the frontend presentation layer. Once I’d made my first pass through that I built the project and ran it… boom! No surprise really! First issue was the Doomdark’s Revenge database. I last generated this about 2004 I think, so the binary format was a little out of date because of a few changes I made while making the iOS version of the engine. Few changes to the export script, and that was all working ok.

Next thing to resolve was some graphical issues. There are no shields in Doomdark’s Revenge, and I used small versions of the shields for the select icon. Jure and I had not come to a decision on how this was going to work, so I created a temporary solution and quickly cropped the characters faces.

f_dwarff_free f_tarithel f_giant

On the main look screen, then shield needed replacing with the character graphic. So the engine now detects a lack of shield graphic and uses the character graphic instead.

And that was that…

That was just stage one. I can wander around the map using any of the three main characters. It randomly crashes, and obviously there is a distinct lack of AI. But, all in all, not bad for a few hours work.

Related Posts:

Think about the future…

icon_512x512I finally submitted the OSX version of The Lords of Midnight to Apple last night, it’s been a long time coming, a lot longer than I expected. I didn’t start it as early as I expected due to supporting the mobile version until March. Some of it has been because of technical issues, I struggled to get the code, more accurately the resolution code, to work satisfactory. Another part was being burnt out. I hadn’t realised how much getting the Mobile version out, took out of me. I found myself not really interested in developing the desktop version, so I found myself bitting at it and not staying focused. In fact a lot of the code ended up being developed on a Saturday morning while my daughter was diving, like I am now. I have a an hour and a half to kill while she dives, you can only give your full attention for so long, and that was always a good excuse to have my laptop with my and work on LoM.

All being well with the Apple submission process, the game will be available in the Mac App Store for the Summer Solstice. The Windows version needs a little more testing and I need to find a home for it to be distributed. If that all doesn’t happen during the next week in order to hit the same release date, I suspect it will be the week after.I now find myself thinking about the next steps. Jure has already started work on, if not almost finished, the artwork for Doomdark’s Revenge, so there is nothing to hold me back there. I suspect that the actual next steps will be a new build of the mobile version of LoM to include the scaling map, the keyboard controls ( for bluetooth keyboards ), and a few bug fixes that were dealt with during the desktop development. The desktop code is just a different branch of the mobile version, so I just need to roll everything up. Being truthful, I also need to put an advert in the mobile version for the desktop version, it would be nice to pickup at least another 6k unit sales.
Continue reading

Related Posts:

Lords of Midnight – iOS

When the iPhone SDK first came out, I signed up as a developer, downloaded the SDK and started playing around. One of the first projects I started was to port TME to the iPhone. I played around for a while, started converting from c++ to objective-c, and then decided that as it would never be an official project then I should use my time more wisely and work on something else – which I never really did.

I briefly discussed the concept of an IOS port for Lords of Midnight with Mike Singleton, but we never really got anywhere.

I actually felt passionately that Lords of Midnight could be developed on modern technology and reach out to a whole new market. The new demand in casual games on portable devices, means that now is its time. And the platform that Apple have developed has allowed games that are about their gameplay to get out to a large non gamer centric audience. I believe that a lot of people would love to get lost within the world of midnight. The gameplay is simple but effective, and as engrossing as the game is, it’s a good pickup and putdown game. Perfect for the portable game player.

When Mike contacted me four weeks ago to discuss the concept of bringing Lords of Midnight to iOS, it pretty obvious that I was excited, but I was also suddenly very nervous. It was now time to put up or shut up. It’s time to actually do it.

Lords of Midnight is a much loved game. It was pretty revolutionary in its time. It’s an amazingly atmospheric experience. And I know a lot of people who would lynch me if I helped to produce another Citadel! My number one concern for this project is – to not f*** it up! My number one item at the top of the design document is – to not f*** it up!

So with that in mind, what are we going to do?

Continue reading

Related Posts:

Lords of Midnight – 2011

In 1984, maybe 1985, my brother Darren, introduced me to a game on his zx spectrum – Lords of Midnight. It’s a wargame/adventure game which was revolutionary in its time. Written by Mike Singleton. You can read much about the history of the game on its wiki page.

In about 1990 I was playing around with a new Spectrum+3 that I had bought and decided to reverse engineer Lords of Midnight. I just wanted to know how it worked.

After performing the reverse engineering, I ported the game to the PC. This indirectly led me to getting a job in the games industry when another industry legend Jon Ritman saw the project and suggested I should think about joining the games industry, and thus everything else that has followed in my career over the last 20 years.

My port was released along side Mike’s official 3rd part of the game. Lords of Midnight:The Citadel in 1995.

In 1999 I started work on an updated version of Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge. A project that was never finished and over the years has fallen by the wayside. But much good came out of it.

My website ICEMARK.com ( Icemark being the land that Doomdark’s Revenge was set in ) was setup and covers much Lords of Midnight material. It has become the unofficial central site for midnight related material.

My reverse engineering of Lords of Midnight and a number of other spectrum titles that followed, led to me performing some work for a New York law firm on 3d Patent Case 4,734,690

In 2004 I wrote a 10 page article about Lords of Midnight in which I also interview Mike Singleton. It was my first piece of published work. Which in turn led to a number subsequent articles.

I host a website for the game Midnight/MU developed originally Jean-Yves Rouffiac, a multi-user take on the Midnight games, and have been involved in the development in some small way over the years.

Needless to say, that Lords of Midnight has played a major part of my life for the last 27 years.

So, taking all the above into account, you can imagine my jubilation, when Mike emailed me at the end of January to discuss the concept of us collaborating on a Lords of Midnight project….

… further details of this new project to follow…

Related Posts:

Lords of Midnight & Doomdark’s Revenge

Watch this space…

Related Posts: