Hi, I'm Henry. In 2012 I quit my job as a programmer at BioWare to spend a year making my own indie games. This blog is about what happened next...

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Blabyrinth on Tour

Blabyrinth on Tour

For the last couple months I've been travelling a lot showing the Blabyrinth demo at festivals. First there was Berlin (AMAZE), Toronto (TCAF), and Montreal (ComicCon). Then Portland (XOXO), Boston (BFIG), Montreal again (TeaCade) and LA (IndieCade). The game was also shown briefly by volunteers (thank you!!) in London at ERIC (the Escape Room Industry Conference). And next weekend there's one more local Montreal conference: MIGS.

IndieCade Photobooth

IndieCade Award

The response has been great (I won an award at IndieCade in LA!) and I've been making connections with escape room designers for potential future collaboration. But travelling has been tiring and takes away from development of the game itself, since I've only had a few days between each event to make changes (mostly just bug fixes). When you wear this many hats they don't always fit on top of each other.

Now that I'm back home I finally feel like I can put my programming hat back on and plough through the big remaining tasks.

What's left to do?

  • Integrate the new CaptainsMess networking library and make sure the game works over Bluetooth
    • ...and release the new CaptainsMess to the public!
  • Better onboarding/tutorials/hints
    • As with Spaceteam, in Blabyrinth I'm trying to avoid having hand-holdy tutorials and instead teach the game through organic interactions and discovery even before you start playing. There's no traditional Title Screen/Menu. I've been spending a lot of time trying to make the interactions intuitive with only small hints at key moments. The latest round of festival playtesting shows that this still need some improvement.

Title Screen Notice Board

  • A few more core puzzle types that involve custom UI
  • The Metagame and difficulty balancing (see below)
  • Refactoring a few core systems
    • Better to do this sooner than later but it was too risky to do between festival demos in case I broke something basic (I've learned this the hard way)
  • Lots of beta testing (with help from you!)
  • Stability + performance + battery optimizations
  • Upgrades and Admiral's Club rewards
    • There are lots of components of the game that can potentially be reserved and "unlocked" later: new puzzles, new avatars, new scenery, new items, new level themes, new game modes. I just need to decide which will be Paid Upgrades (probably a $5 or $10 In-App Purchase, like Spaceteam), which will be Admiral's Club Rewards (if you're not already a member please join to get exclusive goodies!), and which will be bonus unlocks that you'll get just by discovering secret things in the game.

Admirals Clubhouse

My current goal is to launch the public beta by Christmas (watch this space!) and launch Blabyrinth version 1.0 a couple of months after that. So, early next year.

This game is going to be ripe for post-launch expansions and features so I plan to keep adding to it for while after the first release. One feature that will have to wait until after launch is a user-facing level editor. This is a substantial project by itself and I'd rather get people playing the game sooner.

Difficulty balancing

Without giving too much away, the Metagame is a way to unlock harder puzzles for people who want more challenge. But this involves figuring out which puzzles are easy and which are hard, which is not always obvious. I can make a lot of educated guesses but some of this balancing will come from more widescale playtesting (the public beta) as people self-report how easy they find particular puzzles. And to complicate matters, difficulty is affected not just by the puzzle type but also the manifestation of the puzzle. For example, a puzzle involving a keypad can be made harder simply by having the symbols on the keys be more complicated shapes/glyphs so they're harder to recognize or describe to your team. Even if the puzzle interaction is the same.

Spaceteam news

Spaceteam VR

The Spaceteam VR team has also been in demo mode, here's a recent video from EGX in London:

I finally have my own VR headset to play the game on and I'll be testing the game soon (for the first time!) to provide my feedback and make sure it stays true to the spirit of Spaceteam. Everything I've seen so far has been great but it's no substitute for actually playing it.

It still feels a bit weird to me that Spaceteam is a "brand" now, with multiple products!

Bunch bugs

Spaceteam on Bunch (which lets you play remotely using video chat) is broken at the moment but we are working on a fix!

CaptainsMess progress

David from TripleBoris has been busy finishing the new Android Bluetooth plugin and it's almost ready. I'm very happy that I outsourced this work to someone else as illustrated by the following example:

I have 3 Android devices at home for testing and one of them refuses to join games using Bluetooth. It can Host games fine, but not Join. It's a pretty standard device (Samsung Galaxy S7) and TripleBoris has the same device which works fine for them. It's just mine that has a problem. I first assumed it was because of other software on the phone but yesterday I discovered that if I bring it to a café and test it there it can join. Something in my house, or perhaps the number of Bluetooth devices in my house, prevents it from connecting. But only this device and only when joining. Fun!

Thank you David for worrying about this stuff so I don't have to! ;)

~ Henry


Summer Sundries

Spaceteam news

ESL Speech Recognition

Educational variant Spaceteam ESL and its French counterpart Astronautes FLS are getting a new feature: Speech Recognition! Now you can get immediate feedback on your pronunciation in Practice mode. I'm using Google Speech-to-Text API which is more appropriate for understanding what you mean rather than exact pronunciation so it's not perfect for our needs but it's close enough. The new versions are in review and should be ready for the new school year on September 3rd.

ESL Speech Recognition

New translations for Spaceteam (now 22 in total!)

  • Swedish
  • Estonian
  • Simplified Chinese
  • ...and Bosnian coming soon!

I paid for a good official Chinese translation in the hopes of launching in China on Android sometime soon. This is actually a complicated procedure requiring special permission from the Chinese government, documents, fees, and working with a Chinese partner. Google Play is not allowed in China so instead you have to distribute your app or game on various other competing app stores. There are dozens of these stores, each with their own terms and policies, so it's much easier to work with someone else to handle the distribution.

I'm still investigating the best way to make it happen but it seems like I shouldn't just ignore such a big potential audience!

I am in violation... of something

When I uploaded my latest beta version to Google I got an unexpected message back that I was violating their Payments policy. Apparently it has to do with linking to my Patreon inside the app (it allows people to "donate" to me outside Google Play which I guess they don't like) but after asking for clarification it's still not clear what I can do to fix it. The app has been this way for a looong time. I've resubmitted without a clickable link (now it just says "Learn more at: spaceteamadmirals.club"). Hopefully that's good enough.

CaptainsMess is being revived!

I finally decided to outsource the one part of my job that I like the least: network programming. I'm working with a local company called Triple Boris to upgrade my CaptainsMess networking library. It will make Spaceteam and Blabyrinth networking more reliable and, since it's open source, hopefully others will be able to benefit from it too!

The first task I've given them is to build a custom Android Bluetooth plugin. I was previously using one from the Asset Store, but it cost money and is no longer supported. CaptainsMess will soon have built-in support for Bluetooth on iOS and Android without relying on external code (still not cross-platform though).

Blabyrinth news

ComicCon

The latest Blabyrinth showing was at Montreal ComicCon in July. Here's Phil (my musician) at the booth with some random players. Our booth was a bit boring so on the second day we brought some puzzle props and Phil's partner Linda made us a great "Escape The Room!" sign to make it more obvious what the game is about. This attracted a lot more escape room fans (and designers!) so I'm going to bring it to other events too.

ComicCon booth

From watching people play the demo it's clear that I need a good way to teach the basic interactions like swiping, pinching, and dragging. When I introduce the game I still feel compelled to explain to people how to zoom in to look for clues and pick up items. So I've been working on making the game teach itself using just the right amount of hinting.

Dragging Hint

New puzzle types

I'm still waiting to open the floodgates on new puzzle types until the game is more stable but I've been adding a few here and there. Here are some previews:

Photo Clue

Letter Grid

Paper Holes

Paper Holes

Paper Holes

Meta game

I don't want to spoil anything about the meta-game but suffice it to say I've been connecting things together so that everything will work if you decide to seek out the additional challenges hidden throughout the game. The labyrinth is not what it appears!

Next stop for Blabyrinth... XOXO Festival in Portland, Oregon (unofficially)

~ Henry


Berlin, Toronto, and a special announcement...

I have some big Spaceteam news to announce...

Spaceteam Logo

Spaceteam is heading to another reality! VIRTUAL REALITY!

A company called Cooperative Innovations has licensed the Spaceteam name and are making a VR version of the game. Read the full press release here. I've already seen some early demos and they're capturing the chaos and humour of the game well. They're planning to launch it later this year and I'm excited to see the finished product!

Cooperative Innovations logo

I'll be sure to mention any Spaceteam VR news here on the blog but you can also sign up for a Spaceteam-VR-specific newsletter from the Cooperative Innovations team here: Spaceteam VR page


Blabyrinth icon

Blabyrinth in Berlin

In April I was in Berlin for the A MAZE. festival where Blabyrinth won the Human Human Machine Award! I was very happy and it's a great start to this new promotional phase of development.

AMaze. Award

The game was demoing well with very few bugs/crashes, however... when the judges got to my station to actually test the game for judging, two unexpected things happened:

  1. They almost immediately started ringing the three giant bells in the demo level and accidentally discovered the secret melody to open the Treasure Room, skipping over a bunch of clues. (Note to self: should I allow these kind of accidental shortcuts in the game?)
  2. Then, three of them went to explore behind a pressure-plate-activated portcullis and the fourth unwittingly locked them all inside and then promptly stepped on a cage trap, thus trapping the entire team. Luckily they still enjoyed the experience :) (Another note to self: should I allow all players to be trapped at once, or artificially rescue them somehow?)

The festival was great for playtesting: I got to watch a steady stream of brand new players interact with the game, see their reactions, and discuss with them afterwards. I took a lot of notes :)

I was there by myself working the booth for 4 days, and the exhibition was open until 1am every day, so it was pretty tiring! I took some breaks but not enough.

Phil (my musician) mentioned something recently that I had never really thought about: it's kind of weird that games can win awards before they come out. It's not true for most other creative industries: music, movies, books, etc.

Blabyrinth in Toronto

In May the whole family went to Toronto for TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) which had a small games presence organized by the Hand Eye Society. This time I had Phil to help with the booth and the show only lasted two days, so it was much more manageable.

Everyone seemed to like the game. Quite a few Spaceteam fans stopped by to say hi. And we got a bunch of new sign-ups for the mailing list.

More than one person mentioned that Blabyrinth felt a bit like an old game from the 90s called Indiana Jones Desktop Adventures (and another called Yoda Stories) so now I have to check those games out and get some inspiration!

Henry at the TCAF booth

The image on the TV is from a rough-cut of our new trailer with some storyboard graphics. We'll be recording some live-action footage for the trailer soon!

I am now a Corporate Overlord

After working under my own name for 6 years as a Sole Proprietor I finally decided to get an accountant and incorporate my business, which will hopefully save some money on taxes. Canada, and specifically Québec (where I am), has some great incentives for video game developers but I've never taken advantage of them. My accountants are going to help me apply for SRED (Scientific Research & Experimental Development) and the Multimedia Tax Credit. Possibly others?

My company's official name is now... drumroll... 9397-6124 Québec inc. (it was cheaper and quicker to register a numbered company) but my "trade name" is still Sleeping Beast Games. And since I'm in Québec I also have to have a French name (which I needed Phil's help for): Jeux Le Dragon Dormant.

Now that I'm starting to promote a second game it looks like I'll need to spend some more time on my website and branding to connect everything together.

Until next time!

~ Henry