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So we went over creating batch documents, navigation, and changing the command prompt window colors.  Now we get into the fun part.  We are going to discuss how to write information to a file, and go over a couple of small commands used for backups or installing custom programs.  As usual I am going to show you some source code, and go over it step by step.  First though lets make a folder and put a text file in it called “random.txt”, then create a folder inside that called “backup”.  Now for the first small script.

@echo off
rem This is going to copy a file and write some info to a text file.
verify on
echo Lets see how this outputting to a file works >> random.txt
copy random.txt backup
pause

As usual there are a bunch of standard commands that we have used in the past and a few new commands.  Lets take it from the top though, just incase you forgot one.  “@Echo Off” tells the console window no to display the commands your using to the user of your program.  The “rem” line is a comment, it is good practice to put a few of these at the top of your program.  When you do this, its a good idea to write what you intend to do with the script.  This way if you leave the script for six months and come back to it, you will know what it does with out reading all the code.  The third line, “verify on” is a new command.  If we pull up the help menu for this, we read that it tells the console window to verify that files are correctly written to a disk.  This is important if your copying files for a custom wrote install script or if your using your script for backup purposes.  Line four is a standard “Echo” statement with a twist.  The so called twist is a redirection symbol “>>”.

If you use any command and insert a redirection symbol “>”  or “>>”, you tell the command prompt to write whatever it would have echoed to a text file that you specified.  In our case we chose “random.txt”.  Important to note that if you use one symbol “>” it will overwrite the file each time, while if you use the double one, “>>”, it will add to the text file each time.  Also if the file you specified is not there, it will create a file named that.

Line five introduces a command that any technician, or person interested in backups is going to want to review in detail.  “Copy” tells the console window to make a copy of a file to a specific location.  As we note below:

COPY [/D] [/V] [/N] [/Y | /-Y] [/Z] [/L] [/A | /B ] source [/A | /B]
     [+ source [/A | /B] [+ …]] [destination [/A | /B]]

  source       Specifies the file or files to be copied.
  /A           Indicates an ASCII text file.
  /B           Indicates a binary file.
  /D           Allow the destination file to be created decrypted
  destination  Specifies the directory and/or filename for the new file(s).
  /V           Verifies that new files are written correctly.
  /N           Uses short filename, if available, when copying a file with a
               non-8dot3 name.
  /Y           Suppresses prompting to confirm you want to overwrite an
               existing destination file.
  /-Y          Causes prompting to confirm you want to overwrite an
               existing destination file.
  /Z           Copies networked files in restartable mode.
  /L           If the source is a symbolic link, copy the link to the target
               instead of the actual file the source link points to.

A few important switches that we did not employ that are a very good idea to use for backups is the “/V” for verification. and “/Y” so we don’t get the irritating “Do you wish to overwrite the file?” window.  Now as a side note, if you like that window you can always add a “/-Y” instead which forces the prompt if two files have the same name.

Line six, “pause”, just allows the script to pause, and let us know it ran without problems.  Now there are a few other commands used that is very similair to the copy command and we are going to use one of them for copying entire directories and multiple files.  It is way more powerful than the regular “copy” command, but its also easier to mess up with.  Lets go over the command then we can write a small backup program.  First, though, lets create a bunch of random files in that folder where the program resides, then open the command prompt.  Type in “xcopy /?” or “help xcopy” and the output should look similairs to this:

XCOPY source [destination] [/A | /M] [/D[:date]] [/P] [/S [/E]] [/V] [/W]
                           [/C] [/I] [/Q] [/F] [/L] [/G] [/H] [/R] [/T] [/U]
                           [/K] [/N] [/O] [/X] [/Y] [/-Y] [/Z] [/B]
                           [/EXCLUDE:file1[+file2][+file3]…]

  source       Specifies the file(s) to copy.
  destination  Specifies the location and/or name of new files.

We are only going to use a few of the multiple switches, and they are as follows:

  /E           Copies directories and subdirectories, including empty ones.
               Same as /S /E. May be used to modify /T.
  /V           Verifies the size of each new file.
  /C           Continues copying even if errors occur.
  /H           Copies hidden and system files also.
  /R           Overwrites read-only files.
  /Y           Suppresses prompting to confirm you want to overwrite an
               existing destination file.

Here is a copy of what your script may look like:

@echo off
rem A backup script
rem Destiny Design Labs Tutorial
color 0A
xcopy *.* /backup /Y /H /C /E >> XcopyLog.txt
rem That above line is the backup line, and outputs a log.
Echo Backup Complete; Press any key to exit.
Pause > null
del null

This copies all the files in the current directory to the backup folder.  As you can tell I used commands learned from past tutorials to make it look like I want, and to comment it nicely.  There are two things to note on this though, and they are on lines 8 and 9. “Pause > null” sends the “Press any key to continue.” line to a file called null, Which the “del null” command deletes that “null” file on exit.  By using this method you can output whatever you want the script to say at that point, by simply adding an “echo” statement before the “pause”. As usual this is Digital Maniac out.

Batch Color Commands

 

Batch Color Commands

–A Digital Maniac Tutorial–

This quick tutorial will allow you to change the background and foreground color of a console window, hereafter referred to as a command prompt. The command you will use for this is the “color” command. This command takes 2 variables after it. The first is the background color, while the second is the foreground color.

Color Background/Foreground

EX: Color 0A

This changes the background color to black and the foreground (text) color to light green. As we discussed in a previous lesson you can learn a lot from a batch file command by typing the command and a /? after it. If we were to type “color /?” in the command prompt, it would give us a list of valid color variables and a little more information about the color command. For reference sakes I copied the list of color codes from this handy help feature to this article. They are listed here:

Color Codes

0 = Black
1 = Blue
2 = Green
3 = Aqua
4 = Red
5 = Purple
6 = Yellow
7 = White
8 = Gray
9 = Light Blue
A = Light Green
B = Light Aqua
C = Light Red
D = Light Purple
E = Light Yellow
F = Bright White

Now that we know this command, we can use it to start customizing the look of out command prompt. Go ahead and type in “Color” followed by a space and the code you want to use.

NOTE: Using the same Background and Foreground color will result in a level one error.

You may have noticed that if you exit the command prompt and open it again, it doesn’t retain these colors. Well there is a way to change that in the registry, but I will describe that at the bottom of this tutorial. Until then we can write a simple batch file that will open a command prompt, change the color, and set the title. This has almost no use other than to teach you a few commands, and if you save it on you desktop; allow you easy access to a customized command prompt. Just bear with me and you will realize that each and every one of these tutorials builds on one another in some way.

Lets first start with the script then introduce and go over the code.

@echo off <
cmd.exe /Q /T:0A /K Title Digital Maniac <

The first line just turns off the echoing as we seen in the prior article, and the @ sign makes sure not to echo the off line. The second line introduces a new command, with multiple switches. First though what is a switch? A switch in batch is anything prefixed by a – or /. These tell the command prompt what parameters to use. Let’s examine this command and its switches in detail. What better place to do that then typing “cmd /?” or “help cmd” into the command prompt? If we do this we get some general information on the “CMD” command. Here is what it displays when you do that:

Starts a new instance of the Windows command interpreter

CMD [/A | /U] [/Q] [/D] [/E:ON | /E:OFF] [/F:ON | /F:OFF] [/V:ON | /V:OFF]
[[/S] [/C | /K] string]

/C Carries out the command specified by string and then terminates
/K Carries out the command specified by string but remains
/S Modifies the treatment of string after /C or /K (see below)
/Q Turns echo off
/D Disable execution of AutoRun commands from registry (see below)
/A Causes the output of internal commands to a pipe or file to be ANSI
/U Causes the output of internal commands to a pipe or file to be Unicode
/T:fg Sets the foreground/background colors (see COLOR /? for more info)
/E:ON Enable command extensions (see below)
/E:OFF Disable command extensions (see below)
/F:ON Enable file and directory name completion characters (see below)
/F:OFF Disable file and directory name completion characters (see below)
/V:ON Enable delayed environment variable expansion using ! as the
delimiter. For example, /V:ON would allow !var! to expand the
variable var at execution time. The var syntax expands variables
at input time, which is quite a different thing when inside of a FOR
loop.
/V:OFF Disable delayed environment expansion.

As we see from this there are a bunch of switches that can be used, but we only want to use three of them for this script. Starting from the top we want to be a good batch scripter, and turn echoing off (/Q). Next we want to set the color of our command window. Now yet again, Microsoft has been misleading. The color command states that it should be Background Color the Foreground Color. This help command shows, as referenced by the chart above that it is foreground/background. This doesn’t make any sense does it? Well a quick trial and error found out which was correct. DO it the way the “COLOR” command states. You would use it like this “/T:0A”. That sets the background to black and the writing to red. The final switch we want to use for this tiny program is the /K switch. This tells the batch file to execute the command following it and stay open afterwards.

By now you’re probably wondering what in the world the “title Digital Maniac” part is for. Let’s take look at it. By reading what the /K command does, we should guess that “title” is a batch command. If we type “title /?” or “help title” we get the following:

TITLE [string]

string Specifies the title for the command prompt window.

So if we save and run this it should open up a command prompt with the colors we chose, turn off our echoing, and change the part of the title that says “Command Prompt” to whatever we put after the “title” command. Go ahead and give it a go. Now let us quickly cover how to set the colors in the registry.

NOTE: This is on Windows Vista/7
(I don’t have access to an XP machine to check the location)

First navigate to this registry location:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Command Processor
or
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Command Processor
(Current User Key takes precedent over the Local Machine Key)

Next find the line DefaultColor entry, right click it and then click on “Modify”. Make sure to leave the base as Hexadecimal, and then change the Value to any valid color code. Push OK, and then load up command prompt. Interesting side note: If you only insert one code (EX: A), it only changes the foreground color. If you insert two codes (EX: 3A) it changes the background with the first one (3) and the foreground with the second (A). This blog does NOT recommend playing with the registry if you are inexperienced, and we are NOT responsible for any damage you may due to your computer. As usual this is Digital Maniac out.

Creating a batch document
–A Digital Maniac Tutorial–

How do I create a batch document, that I can run over and over?  That is the question I am going to answer right now.  The first thing you will need to do is either open notepad, or something similair.  I recommend using Notepad++, but thats just a personal preference after writing thousands of lines of code in multiple languages.  After you open your text editor, start typing in what commands we want to run.  I am going to write up a basic start of a script in this article, then I am going to attempt to explain what each and every line of code does.  Now for the script

rem Just a simple do nothing script
cd C:\
pause

Very simple program, you can probably look at the code and figure out what it does, but can you figure out how to save it in order to run it? Well let me help with that.  Type them commands just as you see them into notepad the click “File”, and next click “Save As”.  After that window pops up, look at the bottom where it says:

File Name:
Save as Type
Encoding:

You want to name the file to whatever you want, and add a .bat to the end of it.  Next you want to change the save as type to all files, then make sure the encoding is set to ANSI.  What this does is tells windows to save the file as whatever you named it and then give it a .bat extension.  the .bat extension is what windows recognises as a Batch file.  Windows also gets confused if you encode it in anything other than ANSI.  Do this and then run the program.  Probably done just what you thought except for one command, but just incase lets start from the top

The “rem” command stands for remark, and it allows you to put comments in your code, so if you leave the code for a few weeks and come back to it, you will hopefully be reminded of what you were trying to do.  The “cd C:\” line just takes us to our C drive, and then theres the new command.  “Pause” just allows you to halt your program and wait on the user to push any key.  This is handy if you want to display a message to your user before the console window closes.

Now you should have noticed that every command we entered is shown at the prompt, and the output displayed below.  If you’ve ever ran a good batch file, you would probably have noticed that it didn’t display the commands, only what was output.  Don’t worry thats easy to fix.  I will show you how right now.  Examine the following code:

@echo off
rem Just a simple do nothing script improved
cd c:\
pause

Now if you save this as a .bat file and run it you should notice that all it displays is the pause message.  Why is that?  That is because we told the computer not to ECHO its instructions to the user, therefore Windows will only display what is output for the user to see.  Lets examine that top line a little deeper though.  The first part that is different from anything we’ve seen thus far is the “@” sign.  That sign just tells the computer not to echo, or display, the instruction in front of it.  So by putting it before we turn off all echoing, we hide the echo statement.  This also could be used if you wanted everything echoed except for your remarks.  You could just put an @ sign infront of every “rem” statement in your program and leave the top line of that code out.

EXAMPLE:
@rem This line is hidden
rem This Line is shown
cd C:\
@cd windows
rem The above CD command was not shown either,
pause

  If you ran the above program, you should notice that all the lines with the @ sign are not shown.  This is a very nice feature, if you don’t want someone seeing your code, while the program is running.

There are a few things I would suggest you get in the habit of doing when you program in batch.  The first is always add the “@echo off” line at the top of the code, unless your debugging it.  The second thing I recommend is your second line change the directory to whichever folder you will be working with.  This isn’t a major thing to do, but its nice if you are reading and writing to files to already be in the correct folder, at the very start. Another thing you want to get in the habit of is adding the “pause” statement to the end of all your scripts.  This will let the user know that your program atleast ran.

The above mentioned things, may not help you programs run any better, but they make them look more professional, and in the  case of the “cd” command, may save you some headaches.  The next article is going to show you how to change the background and foreground (Text) color of the console.  Till then this is Digital_Maniac out.

PS: This was wrote at 6 AM when I still havent had any sleep, please excuse any and all rambling/typos.

Beginning Batch

Beginning Batch
–A Digital Maniac Tutorial–

Today I am going to start teaching you the lost art of programming in batch.  At some point over this multi-part tutorial we will delve into the history of batch, but today lets just get you started writing some scripts!  This tutorial is hopefully going to give those of you with no scripting/programming background a place to start.

First, let us discuss what tools you will need for this.  You will need a Windows machine of some kind (This can be windows 3.1 up, but not all commands will work on versions prior to Windows XP.) Also needed:
Keyboard (Onscreen is fine)
Brain (Optional)
Caffinated Beverage (Handy If you wish to script all night)

You will also need access to the command prompt on your computer.  You may need administrative rights to use some commands or access it at all.  In order to access follow the following steps depending on your operating system.

All Versions of Windows:

Click the start menu, go to all programs, then click accessories, then click Command Prompt.  Alternatively you can open the run menu and type in “cmd” without the quotes.

Vista and Windows 7 Only:

Click the start menu or push the windows key on your keyboard, and type in “cmd” without the quotes.  I have found this to be the quickest way of opening a command promt.  Just for your information, that spot you typed in is actually Windows new way to search, but if you know the right commands you can use it like the run window.

On to the lessons:

You’ve successfully opened the command prompt, or sometimes referred to as the console.  Congratulations!  Now lets familarize ourselves with this window. You should see something along the lines of “C:\Users\user>” or something with a flashing underscore after it.  Everything before the > sign is a path to the directory that you are currently in.  Above that should be some information from Microsoft; specifically a copyright notice and your version number of windows.

Your probably itching to start typing something into that prompt now, aren’t you? Well lets get you typing then!  If you type “help” into the window and push enter, it should show you a list of available commands.  Go ahead and give it a shot.  Now the first sentence after you type that is only half true.  You can type “help” followed by any command to get some more detailed information involving it, but alternatively you can just type the command name followed by a space and “/?”. Just as a small note here, I will always surround a command name in quotes when its in mid paragraph.  These quotation marks should NOT be entered into the console windows unless otherwise stated.

Now that you’ve had a chance to look over the commands briefly, lets type in out second command, “cls”.  This clears the console window for use giving us a nice clean slate for our next few commands.  Now we are going to attempt some navigation within the console. The command “cd” stands for “Change Directory”, and thats how you move from folder to folder, this command will be used in conjunctino with the “dir” command.  The “dir” command allows you to view the all folders and files in the current location.  So lets give these commands a try.  First type “cd C:\” assuming C:\ is your main drive letter.  Notice how the command prompt updated your current directory?  If its not working for you remember that you must type the :\ after the drive letter.

Now lets try our next command to view all folders and files in the directory. Type in “dir” now.  It should display some information to you.  Starting from the left most column it gives you the date then time last modified.  After that it prints <DIR> if its a folder or leaves it blank if its a file.  The next column shows the ammount of space in Bytes that the file takes up, and the final colum gives you the name of the file or folder.  Easy enough for you?  I could’ve told you it wouldn’t be that hard.

Now we are going to navigate around to a few folders.  Next command is the “cd” command again.  This time we are going to go into our windows folder. “cd windows” should get you into the folder. Notice how if we move from one directory to a subfolder we did not have to use any “/”s?  Thats just how it works, blame Microsoft if you dont like it.  Now there are a few ways to get back to the folder you just came from.  The easiest to remember is to just type “cd c:\” but that will take you back to the root directory,  If you ever happend to be five or six folder deep, it could get irritating to go all the way back to the root the work you way down again.  Thats where the next command is nice to have.  “cd ..” takes you up one level, allowing you to stay close to where you want to be.  Make sure you use two periods or it will NOT work. (Again thats Microsoft) So now see if you can get back to your root directory on your own.

Did you make it there without any problems? Good.  Next we are going to figure out how to get into a folder with a space in the name.  Go ahead and try to use the “cd” command to get into the “program files” folder. On windows 7 just typing “cd program files” works, but that doesn’t work in Windows XP.  Also if you wish to move to a folder that you know the path for but it has spaces in it you could just type “cd c:\program files\my batch tutorial is horrible”  This will not work on XP or Windows 7.  To get around this you must surround the directory in quotation marks.

EX:  cd “C:\program files\where I need to be” <<These Quotation marks would have to be entered
EX2: cd c:\prgram files\where I need to be   <<This will not work; no quotations.

Incase you haven’t noticed, you can use “cd” to go to anyfolder from anywhere if you know the complete path.

Thats just a quick rundown of how to navigate folders via the command prompt, the next lesson will actually show you how to make a script that you can just double click to run.  I apoligize for the long winded tutorial on such an easy thing, but I’m writing this at 2:30 in the morning with two hours of sleep.  I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  Till next time this is Digital Maniac out.

News and Downloads

Scroll to the very bottom of the page for the downloads, or you can go HERE

Ok everyone its been awhile since you heard from me (DIGITAL MANIAC) or my buddy SARGE HAVOC.  Well that’s because we’ve been having some issues with work, school, and personal life.  Today I want to announce that I am releasing a kit to help all of you IT professionals remove pesky viruses off of Windows 7.  You can run this tool and get instant access into the System account on Windows 7, and possibly Windows Vista.  This tool uses the PsTools software from Sysinternals (Who was bought by Microsoft.) This is 100% safe, and all you have to do is disable User Account Control, or right click PSexec.exe and set it to run as administrator.  After you do that just run the RUN ME.bat file, and you should be in the system account.  I am also releasing a folder full of icons.  Every thing I release will have a direct download link, and some will have a .torrent file.  If you want to download the .torrent file to save me some bandwith on my storage, or for quicker speeds, you will need a Bittorrent client.  I personally recommend µTorrent, or the portable version here.  For more information on portable apps you can check out here, or here.  I will also include the steps to enter the system account on Windows XP if you download the System account files for Windows 7.  I am planning to provide a mirror for Windows 7 Logon Changer.  Using this you can change your logon screen to any image under 256 KB larger.  The great thing about this is that you can always change your logon screen back to normal, the steps will be at the bottom of this post.  That is just a few of the goodies that are available for download, with more to come over the next few weeks.  Now I am going to relist all of the above things so you know what you can download.

Windows 7 Logon Screen Changer (.zip)

IconPack 1 (Zip and Torrent)

Game Design Resources (Zip)

RBG Hex code color sheet (PDF)

Quest of Discovery (Zip) < Minor sound change

System Account (Zip)

Black and White Icons (Zip)

Hidden Control Panel (Windows 7 God Mode, [Folder])

Midi Resource Pack (Zip)

Windows 7 Logon Changer (Zip)

The Hidden Control Panel, or GodMode, is a special shortcut that opens the control panel, with every action listed.  If you need to do something that’s hard to find in the control panel, just open the Hidden Control Panel, and voila you now have easy access to it.

HOW TO CHANGE LOGON SCREEN BACK TO NORMAL

1)      Run the program again

2)      browse and select Windows – System32 – oobe – info – backgrounds

3)      then select the default image. (backgroundDefault.jpg)

As always this is Digital Maniac out, There WILL be more downloads coming soon.

Interview with @ExciteMike

Interview with ExciteMike

INTERVIEW 3

You can follow him on twitter here, or check out his games here.  As usual the questions are below.

How long have you been an indie game designer?

I see two different ways to answer this. One is that maybe I’m actually NOT an independent game designer, because currently I work for Electronic Arts and technically anything game-related that I do belongs to them. That view is kind of depressing, though.

The other view is that I’ve been an indie game designer since before I can even remember. In fact, I think that’s true of most people, maybe everyone! Kids tend to entertain themselves, and often that involves making up some rules and a challenge to go with those rules. That’s game design! I remember personally trying to set up particular arrangements of dominoes, launch toy cars at targets, and making up extra rules for playing tag on the playground.

How hard do you think it is to make it as an indie game
designer?

If the goal is to make a living at it, then it’s going to take a lot of effort, and in fact I can’t say I’ve done it. With all my indie stuff I’ve made a grand total of $500 and one all-access GDC pass, and that was back in 2003.

But if the goal is just to design games independently, that’s easy! Everyone has probably already done it! To actually make those games come into existence, well, that takes a lot of work.

What do you like to do when you are not designing games?

Playing them is a big one! Especially games that are unusual in some way. Recently I’ve gotten very interested in a very old board game from Nepal called Bagh Chal. It is pretty different from anything else I’ve played recently. I also read a lot of nonfiction. Somehow reality is consistently more interesting to me than what fiction writers can think up. Mostly I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading random things on the internet.

What do you recommend to anyone wanting to start as an indie
game designer?

All it takes to be a game designer is to design games!
But for some specific advice:
1) Make lots of games! There’s no better way to get better at it than to do it.
2) Play games! A wide variety of games! Not just electronic ones either! There are a lot of games out there and there is a lot to learn from.
3) Analyze! Don’t just play them to steal their ideas, try to look at what effect various design decisions have on the player and why. As an example, look at how “dumb” the ghosts act in Pac-man. Every so often they start to ignore where pac-man is and move by completely different rules. And Metroid Prime, even though it is mostly played in first-person view, has many different camera modes! There are good reasons for those! But for those sorts of design decisions, there’s no one right answer for all games, so it pays to understand how different approaches work out.
4) Beware of advice. Well-meaning, intelligent people can often fail to understand the specifics of your situation and/or assume that your situation is like theirs was. Thus their advice may be wrong for you. I’m sure this applies to everything I’m saying.
5) Find people who share your interests! A little encouragement can go a long way in helping to motivate you and get you through the parts of game development that suck. Try to go to game jams! And if you can do it, hanging out with other game developers at GDC is amazing!

Are there any sites or forums that you would recommend indie
designers to check out?

I think it depends a lot on what kinds of games you want to make and how you want to make them. If you are using a particular tool like Unity or GameMaker, there are online communities around those that can be great to be involved in. I very rarely go there myself, but the TIGSource forums are apparently a pretty big deal for a lot of indies. I have found that you can very quickly get pretty good feedback if you show a work in progress in their feedback section. Just understand that it is usually easier and more important for people to talk about what sucks about your game than its strengths, so don’t be discouraged if it seems negative.

Also glorioustrainwrecks.com’s monthly Klik of the Month Klub event is pretty much my favorite thing on the entire internet. Just throwing that out there.

Are there any tools/programs/systems that you recommend a
start-up indie company/person invest in?
(These can be freeware/shareware/retail)

I use FlashDevelop and the FlexSDK to build my flash games,Visual Studio and Unity for 3d stuff, and Klik and Play for when I want to get a game made REALLY quickly.
In addition to those, I use Photoshop for graphics, SFXR and Goldwave for audio, Mercurial for source control, SyncBack for backups, and Twitter for telling people when I release a game.

How active should an indie designer be on social-networking
sites?

I don’t think there’s any magic amount that is right or wrong here. Enough to tell people about the stuff you make, but not so much that no one wants to follow you. If you have something to say, say it, and if you don’t, don’t, you know?

Should an aspiring indie designer compete in any
competitions they qualify for?

I don’t see why not. It’s fun! Do read the fine print, though, as some are a bit scammy. TIGSource competitions, Ludum Dare, and Klik of the Month Klub are all great and the more people that do them the better!

In your opinion, how important is setting realistic goals
for an start-up indie company?

I figure lofty, impossible goals are great, it’s just that you have to also break them down into small, achievable goals that help you work toward them.

In your opinion, is a website important to have for an indie
designer?

If you want to share your work with the world, it is one of the best ways to do it.

If so should they use a free template, or hire an actual
website designer?

For most people a simple wordpress blog with a free theme will probably accomplish all you want and more. That said, I personally use a customized version of mediawiki and I’ve been loving it.

 

As usual this is Digital Maniac out, and a new post will be up within a week.

Interview With @GreyAlien

Interview Two

Grey Alien Games Director

Below are the questions I asked the director of Grey Alien Games.  You can follow him on twitter here, and visit his site here.  But you all don’t want to read my rambling, so here goes:

How long have you been an indie game designer?

That’s slightly complicated in my case:  I’ve been making games since I was 8 and I also made games alongside my main job as a business software developer during my 20s, but none of them were released publicly.  Then in late 2004 I started on a game called Iron Fist, and I was enjoying it so much that I eventually stopped doing the business software in the summer of 2005 to go full-time Indie.  So I could say I’ve been a full-time Indie for 5.5 years and part-time for like forever.  However, this is complicated by the fact that I recently worked at Big Fish Games in Vancouver for 2 years, although I retained my Indie company, Grey Alien Games, but didn’t do anything with it except for receive royalties.  In mid-January I left Big Fish Games and went full-time Indie again.

How hard do you think it is to make it as an indie game designer?

Very hard.  It took me several years before I was making enough money to keep my family fed and housed, and I know many other Indies (those who didn’t give up) who say the same.  Basically your first few games will probably suck and not make much money.  Once you begin to understand how to make commercial games and market them, then things change for the better.  However, that process can take a long time.  Sure there are some outliers who make an amazing first game, but they are rare and there are normally some other factor at play.

What do you like to do when you are not designing games?

Apart from spending time with my family (I have a wife and two boys), I teach Aikido (a Japanese martial art) to keep fit and healthy in mind and body.  I also play the guitar, play computer games, watch TV shows on Netflix, browse the Internet (who doesn’t?), read books, play boardgames, go for hikes, and go to parties (with other Indies).

What do you recommend to anyone wanting to start as an indie game designer?

I could talk about this topic for ages, but let’s boil it down to: 1) Get some experience at making free mini games whilst you still have a job/income stream or live at your parents, 2) Save up LOTS of money (called a “runway”) so that when you go Indie you have enough to survive for a couple of years, 3) Don’t be put off by early failures, stick at it and improve each time,  4) Network and meet other Indies so that you can learn from them and perhaps team up. 5) Start simple and small, don’t make an MMO, RPG or Strategy Game, or a Facebook game.

Are there any sites or forums that you would recommend indie designers to check out?

Well, whatever programming language you are using, they should have some forums, so hang out on there and learn how to program better.  Also I visit the Indiegamer forums every day ( http://forums.indiegamer.com/index.php ) where I learn a ton about the actual business of selling Indie games.  Gamasutra ( http://www.gamasutra.com/ ) also has some good Indie articles from time to time.  Remember not to read too many sites in case they distract you from making a game!

Are there any tools/programs/systems that you recommend a start-up indie company/person invest in?  (These can be freeware/shareware/retail)

Try not to use pirated software otherwise you are helping to destroy the industry that you are part of.  There’s tons of good Open Source stuff out there (like Gimp, and Inkscape for making/editing art or placeholder graphics), or you can just bite the bullet and buy Photoshop.  I use sfxr to make retro sounds effects for my mini-games, but I use Fruity Loops to make proper commercial sound effects (or to modify existing ones), also Audacity is pretty cool.  Your programming language choice is up to you, but I also use Notepad ++ to edit files.  I also use: Oggdrop and Wav2MP3 Wizard to convert sound file formats.  That’s pretty much it.  It’s more about getting stuff shipped than what fancy tools you use imho.

How active should an indie designer be on social-networking sites?

Ha, well if you are trying to get your game made, not too active UNLESS you are doing marketing to build hype for your game before it releases.  The big two are Twitter and Facebook of course, and Youtube videos are a very powerful viral marketing force.

Should an aspiring indie designer compete in any competitions they qualify for?

Probably not.  Most of the competitions I’ve seen are either a scam (they take your IP) or the pay out a crappy amount.  It’s fun to compete in 48-hour gamejams like Ludum Dare, and there are some reputable competitions. I know one guy who won a car and a full-access GDC pass from Intel! Just make sure to read the small print.  I prefer to “compete” on the open market and collect my winnings that way.

In your opinion, how important is setting realistic goals for an start-up indie company?

Important for sure, but how do you know what realistic is until you’ve actually done it?  After a few games are under your belt, it’s much easier to create realistic goals for yourself.  Of course you can talk to other Indies as well to help shape your goals.  However, I believe in having some lofty goals to dream about and aim for in the long run.  Mine was to make £5000 a month from games, and that eventually happened.

In your opinion, is a website important to have for an indie designer?

Yes (and a blog), but don’t spend too much time on it until you are ready to sell your first game, unless you are a pre-sales hypemaster.  Selling games directly will make you loads more money per unit sold that going with any publisher, but of course it’s hard to get traffic.  Experienced Indies build up a mailing list of customers over the years and can make fantastic sales from their own website, which means they aren’t reliant on any other 3rd party publisher.

If so should they use a free template, or hire an actual website designer?

Depends on budget.  A free one is probably fine especially if you can modify it well.  Some 13-year old kid from Texas made the first draft of mine! Perhaps later on you can spend a bit of money on a better looking/functioning site (if you can’t do it yourself).

If you have any other thing you want to mentions just put it somewhere on here, and I will incorporate it into the post.

Thanks very much for interviewing me.  Remember, being Indie isn’t easy, but when it finally beings to work out, it’s an amazing experience!

Interview with Sophie Houlden

INTERVIEW #1

Alright here are the questions I asked Sophie Houlden.  You can find her on her site, or follow her on twitter.  Any comments in bold are my comments, and this blog takes no stance to any statements made these are not the works of this blog, so we hold no accountability of anything said.

How long have you been an indie game designer?

Long long time, since I was at school, I forget how long ago that was, more than 5, less than 10 (I hope!)

 

What do you like to do when you are not designing games?

Sleep, I love sleeping the most. sure everyone likes to sleep, but I like it more. when I’m not making games or sleeping though, I like the usuals, playing games, watching tv shows, movies, anime. listening to music, drawing etc.

Everyone loves sleep, but she brought out a good point about playing games.  By playing games you can find ideas, you might not come up with on your own

 

What do you recommend to anyone wanting to start as an indie game designer?

Don’t give up. try and find some tools that are beginner friendly and suit you, but don’t quit at the first hurdle. get past the first few hurdles and THEN decide if you like the tool or not. also don’t forget that documentation, tutorials and google are there to help you, you will understand better if you try to find the solution to problems yourself before asking for help. but don’t be afraid to ask for help. also, don’t give up, ever. I know I said that twice… yeah, it’s still not enough: DON’T GIVE UP.

 

Are there any sites or forums that you would recommend indie designers to check out?

TIGSource, ludumdare, the indiegames.com blog, the forum/IRC of whatever tools you are using. also twitter. find devs to follow who inspire you. most of the time seeing someone else making something wicked is all you need to get out of a rut, so make sure that wickedness (wickidity?) is pouring into your inbox non-stop.

I would like to personally add GameDev.net to this list.  They have some awesome forums.

Are there any tools/programs/systems that you recommend a start-up indie company/person invest in?  (These can be freeware/shareware/retail)

I say try your hand at a few and see what suits, but I’ll list a bunch of stuff that’s worth checking out: Unity, GameMaker, FlashDevelop + Flixel or Flashpunk, Blender, Sculptris, graphicsgale, the gimp (if you can stand it’s interface), and a whole bunch of other stuff that I hear is good but haven’t had the chance to check out yet; construct, gamesalad, love2d, adventure game studio, renpy and loads more I’ve forgotten. google, ask around. if you see an indie game you like you can usually email the developer and ask them what they used to make it, and what tools they would recommend for a beginner to work towards that.

It never hurts to ask someone what they use, the worst they can say is no.

How active should an indie designer be on social-networking sites?

I honestly couldn’t say, I don’t really think about PR too much, but I do spend a lot of time on twitter, it’s great to be able to post screens and builds of games and get feedback relatively quickly, but then I also recently used twitter to post in detail about a pair of curtains I bought. like I say, I’m probably not the best person to talk to about social networking, I just empty whatever is in my head onto twitter is all ^__^;

 

Should an aspiring indie designer compete in any competitions they qualify for?

yes, well, not ‘compete’ so much, it’s great to make games alongside others. and a brilliant way to improve and push your skills, stuff like ludumdare where you make a game in a weekend are wonderful because they do something game developers traditionally don’t do enough of: sketch! other craftspeople do quick, throwaway projects to get the hang of stuff and it improves their ‘proper’ work and they level up their skills, short ‘competitions’ are a great way for us indies to do this. and often we can walk away from one with a new idea that gets polished up and makes for a decent game.

Compete was probably the wrong word there.

In your opinion, how important is setting realistic goals for an start-up indie company?

So, so very important. if you plan to make a game with too great a scope it will kill you. a good way to scale it is take your awesome idea, imagine how long it will take to complete, multiply it by a few hundred. if you have completed a few projects before you will have a better understanding of what to aim for, but otherwise you are likely in that horrible trap of being over confident and assuming you can do everything you need in half the time you have, this is especially cruel as it happens most to people who have serious skills.

I say aim very, very small if you haven’t completed a project before, it’s often easy to scale up (though usually unneccessary, a small focussed work is way better left alone), but it’s heartbreaking to have to scale down. and it’s even more heartbreaking when you plod along assuming you will reach all the goals you set out ignorant of the fact your goals are absurd.

so yes, very very important, perhaps the most important thing. if you get it wrong you will have just wasted time and not have anything to show for it at the end.

 

In your opinion, is a website important to have for an indie designer?

Yeah, I think so. a place where folks can go play your games, get in touch with you, see screenshots, videos and links to where you are on various other sites and networks? I think your audience will appreciate that, it’s like having your own base on the internet, and that’s cool.

 

If so should they use a free template, or hire an actual website designer?

Use whatever, my website is a mix of my own HTML, a teensy bit of php, and some tweaked software like wordpress. I don’t think you need to hire anyone or even know any of that stuff I just mentioned to have a perfectly fine website. just go to tumblr, blogger or wordpress, make a blog and so long as you tag your posts right you can say, link to a page with all your games on. easy to set up, easy to use, easy for visitors to use.

whilst having a super flashy site can impress a handful of designer types, a vanilla blog layout is all most people need. sure a little friendly UI design goes a long way, but you don’t have to try and be cutting edge or anything, no one is visiting the site to see the site itself, they want the content.

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That wraps up the first interview,  next time I hope to have greyaliengames.com founder in an interview.  Feel free to post comments, and as usual this is Digital Maniac out.

Designing a Plot

Designing a plot

Game Design Article 2

 

It is time for another article on game design.  This time I plan on covering what to consider when writing a plot.  I will also touch on writing a back story.  It seems nowadays, a lot of games could be made better with a well-thought out plot, but the developer goes with either no plot or a horribly written one.  I plan on taking some quotes from numerous writers at GameDev.  I believe that you will find their site an indispensable resource if you are serious about creating games.  You also might make yourself active on their forums, as a lot of independent game developers seem to congregate there.

 

First off let me take a quote from Alex Kriss over at GameDev that he said when talking about better plots.  Let me also state that all quotes on this post are by him unless otherwise stated.

  

Avoid clichés! Sometimes the tried-and-true formula has been tried too many times.  If your going to go with a post apocalyptic RPG, and have it take place in a barren wasteland after a nuclear holocaust, you might just get tossed aside, for every other post apocalyptic game on the market.  I personally like these games, but more and more games are coming out dealing with a period like this.  You could always try to put a new spin on it.  For example, you could have it post apocalypse where instead of nukes and a wasteland, global warming finally devastated most of the population, and the earth finally settled back to a half-way inhabitable place.

 

Predictability is a bad thing.  You read that correctly, it is never a good idea to have your player figure out the ending or a plot twist before it happens.  If you allow that to happen then you probably just lost your player.

 

I give up, be prepared for a long quote after this sentence.

 

Don’t over-do it! Games nowadays are getting more and more revolutionary. However, don’t try to change gaming through plot…at least not in your first attempt. Only the greatest storytellers like Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island creator, among others) can actually change the way you play through a story. Try to keep it believable, entertaining, and within the context of your technologies. If you don’t have a decent texture modeler don’t set your game in a vivid photorealistic world.

Dialogue is everything. Dialogue and character interaction is often considered an unimportant aspect that is only a believable way for a character to obtain information fast. Make it more than that. In an adventure game, dialogue can be a player’s only link to the world that you have placed him/her in. The dialogue should offer many branches and ideally could change a particular puzzle’s outcome. It is very important that you write out dialogue during the Design phase carefully. DO NOT let the programmer think up stuff on the spot while he’s coding the dialogue engine.

Now that we have the don’ts out of the way, lets move onto the do’s in which there is going to be another long quote, due to the fact Mr. Kriss states it a lot better that me.

 

Play your genre! Making an RPG? Play tons of RPG’s. Making a graphic adventure? Play tons of those. Understand what works and how the designers integrated all of the aspects of our first list. Think of character development, NPC’s and backstory. Analyze how the backstory is presented, how the player gets to know the character, why the character is involved, and how he interacts with others.

But my genre is plotless! Ok, so you’re making a FPS? Maybe an RTS? A puzzle game? And every game you’ve played in that genre has a bad (if any) plot? Well, then make one up. Play through Doom and think how a good plot could be integrated though more than text boxes popping up during loading times. Think if the player would have more fun if the space marine s/he is playing as was more developed. Think if the game would be more intense if there were some NPC’s that could be stumbled upon (or possibly killed by monsters…).

Always carry pen and paper! Sure, it’s easy enough to hop out of the shower and jot something down, but if a thought hits you when you’re hours away from a writing utensil and paper you will not be happy.

Real life can help game life! So you’re a disgruntled game designer spending day after day staring at the blank screen of a word processor. Go outside! Relive real life! Get ideas from what’s in the real world and use it in your game’s world! Believe it or not, every single player of your game lives in the same real world as you, so if your game has real-world subjects and ideas that you can relate to, they can relate to them also.

Trash is for coffee grinds and stale bread. Don’t throw anything away! What was a dead idea three months ago could be your best source for a good plot today. Get an idea, write it down, and keep it no matter what. When you’re stuck for ideas or at a dead-end go back to see the evolution of your ideas and modify and combine until you get a new idea. As long as you never toss anything, you’ll always have something to work from.

Mr. Kriss also states that you should brainstorm with others.  Talk to a friend, your wife, your kids, your parents, or go to a chat room frequented by game developers and game players.  If you do go to the chat rooms, I wouldn’t put all you cards on the table, but I would ask for some help.  I hope that you gained something from reading this article, and as I am tired while writing this, I will leave the back story subject for another day.  As usual, this is Digital Maniac out.

 

First off, you have to make sure that you recognize what a “good plot” is. Doom did not exhibit a good plot. In fact, nearly all first-person-shooters as a whole do not have good plots. Tetris had no plot. Space Invaders had no plot. Yet all these games are some of the best-selling games of all time. So now you need to realize that, despite how much it hurts to say this, not all games require a plot. So now you need to think long and hard whether your game needs a plot, and even if you create one, will anyone pay attention?

Notice that he said “Not all games require a plot.”  Although I believe many games could and will benefit from a well thought out plot.  Now it’s time to move onto the don’ts of the article.

Names And Sound

Game Development Tools 2

 

Well now its time for another article on game development tools.  Last time we talked about some different game development engines; today I plan to talk about some places to get ideas from, and some sound effects generators.  Let me first talk about the sound effect creator that was originally entered as an entry to the Ludum Dare competition.

There is one program a lot of independent game developers that always seem to turn to the program called Sxfr.  This program allows you to generate a random sound, then adjust some sliders to make it sound perfect.  This program was created by Dr. Petter and he allows you to use any sound effects completely free for personal or commercial use.  He developed this for the LD48 #10 competition and it has done nothing but grow from then.  I wish to extend a huge thank-you to him for such a wonderful piece of software.

The other thing I want to touch on deals with generating names, places, and descriptions.  This is an entirely web based program, that the owner allows you to use.  The owner doesn’t ask for any payments, and you can use the generated items in personal or commercial software, books, or anything else you need it for.  The link is located here.  I just want to show you a few items that can be generated there.

DIETY NAMES

Aeont

Coralius

Daena

SHIP NAMES

 

Jeremy’s Battleaxe

Lee’s Poleaxe

Paul’s Century

Not only can it generate things like the above names, it can generate you a title for you game.  A loose plot, tavern names, space anomaly names, names of places, and many other things can also be generated.  The owner (whose name nor handle I can recall at this moment) even goes through the steps on how to make a generator similair to theirs.  So whether you are a writer, game designer, or filmmaker you can benifiet from this site immensely.  I hope you enjoyed this short article, and look forward to a post on developing a plot.  As usual, this is Digital Maniac out.