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Friday, January 12, 2018

Join the Heist: Behind the Burgal (Part 2)

With the upcoming launch of Burgal's Bounty, I wanted to write about the long history of the game and some of the challenges of the development process. Burgal's Bounty is coming to iOS and Android on February 15th, 2018. 

Join the Heist: The Story of a Burglar named Burgal and the Game he Starred in (Part 1)

In January of 2015 I put in a request for a leave of absence from work with the plan on quitting at the end of it.  Shortly after doing that I was introduced to Orian Livnat (real name) of Liv Games. Orian was someone who did in fact take the plunge and started making games full time.  When we first spoke, the first piece of advice he provided me with was this: “Don’t quit your day job.”  Unfortunately, as I was so burned out from my day job, I was at a point where continuing to live the road warrior life would make me more miserable than taking the risk of not making any money by developing video games.  I told myself I was going to ignore that advice. The next advice Orian gave me was that because Phat Professional Burglar was a mobile game, it needed a shorter name (maybe something with alliteration). This was taken into consideration and Tom suggested that we call the game Burgal’s Bounty. The final piece of advice was to replace the graphics. The style of the 2010 Windows Phone release of the game needed a serious update.  Tom was unable to do new artwork for the game at this point in his life and I was not a graphics artist - but I did know another one.  For the sake of this story we will call her Betty Anne. Betty Anne and I had talked about doing a game together on and off for awhile over the last couple of years. I approached her about Burgal's Bounty and she seemed to be onboard.  By this time, the game was largely done...except for the fact the entire thing needed to be graphically re-skinned which Betty Anne thought would take a few months to accomplish. 

Betty Anne created some very cool Phat Games branding and character design for Burgal’s Bounty. Further to that, Harry, the music guy, wrote 5 pretty awesome tracks for the game. The game had graphics, had puzzles, and had music. Everything seemed to be moving along pretty well and we are on target to launch for the Android finally in June of 2015.

April came along, and it was time to make a decision on my job. Heeding Orian’s advice, I decided not to quit. I was able to negotiate my way into a full time work from home position. It was manageable to work on my game and have a work from home full time job.  I don't think it would have been nearly as manageable if I were traveling weekly still, or if I had any lengthy commute.  It also removed all financial concerns from the process which was actually a pretty great feeling! 

June arrived.  I did it! I launched my first game since childhood!  I did it on a common and modern platform. Everything was great now. All I had to do was start the iOS port and then I would get rich from these versions, right...right? No, that definitely would not happen. But, I would get some downloads, right? Also, not really.  I would get possibly some downloads that weren’t by friends, right?  Yes, after I paid for some user acquisition there seemed to be a little bit of popularity in Brazil.  

Releasing a game taught me I had no clue what the hell I was doing. While Burgal’s Bounty had all the same puzzles as the previous 2 releases did, it lacked a good tutorial, UI, and proper difficulty progression. It also lacked any sort of financially sound way of reaching a broad audience to give it a chance for it to make any money. After all of this, I learned I had no idea what I was doing, and developing the game in a vacuum for all those years certainly did not help. Why did I not walk away at this point, and not bother with the iOS port? Largely because I think I was stubborn, and I was going to do the iOS port in a proper tool: Unity. I had never used Unity before, but it was time to learn. After all, how hard could it be?

Learning Unity was actually not that hard at all, but it certainly took a little awhile.  I started the iOS port with much of the Android version’s codebase. Good news was that a lot of the code was portable from Java to C#.

Shortly after launch, a friend from San Francisco and I met up at a bar in New York.  His name is Matt Conn - CEO of Midboss. He is the organizer of GaymerX and he invited me to show my game at GaymerX3 (GX3) that December. This would be my first major expo where I would be showing the game, minus a few New York PlayCrafting expos**.




In August of 2015, my then significant other noticed something peculiar about the artwork for Burgal’s Bounty.  It did not look original, so I did some investigation.  After spending an entire evening uploading images to Google’s reverse image search, I had found that all of the assets in Burgal’s Bounty were not original with the exception of the character art and logo branding!  Well… that night I downed an entire bottle of wine and did not sleep very well.  The next day I contacted my artist and asked her about these findings.  She denied it.  I presented the evidence and she proceeded to get upset with me because I had hurt her feelings or something.  Many of the assets she used were not licensable for commercial use - including the game’s core mechanic: The Arrows.  As a result, licensing was not an option.  After speaking to a lawyer friend of mine, I was advised to pull the game from Google Play.  Betty Anne and I never spoke again.***

Burgal’s Bounty had 1100 downloads by the time it was pulled (most of it through paid user acquisition).  It was live for less than 2 months.  I did learn a number of valuable lessons from the experience.  If you look back at some of my blog posts over the years (as sporadic as they may have been) I think I glossed over the Android release and tried to pass it off as some soft launch.  I have not previously talked about the graphic issue on the blog.

I had no idea what to do next.  I had no viable game to market to the masses.  I had no way to market to the masses.  I had no graphics.  I had learned that many of the game's levels were way too hard.  I had music.  But no game or graphics for the music to go with.  I definitely no longer had a game for GaymerX3. At this point I should have walked away and took some time off to figure out my next project.  They say failure is part of the learning process.  I never really saw this as a failure though.  I thought you only fail if you give up and giving up is also not really in my nature - It's the stubbornness thing. 

One evening while was sitting on the train making my way to an Indie Game Developers meetup, my mind was churning through the recent events as I brainstormed a way to move forward.  My mind, once again, drifted back to my childhood - as that always seemed to be the most creative time of my life.  I made these silly comic strips when I was in elementary school to waste time when I should have been paying attention in class - or some boring thing like that.  The art style was very basic, but for what the comics were, it worked.  From there, I started to think about taking a radical departure from the art direction that Burgal’s Bounty had used previously in all of it's incarnations.  I thought of doing a crude comic style.  The idea continued to grow in my mind throughout the night and when I got home I started some sketches of Burgal. Over the next couple of weeks I put together some stop motion paper crumple effects to go with the crude artwork.  After showing it to a few people and getting positive feedback, the fourth incarnation of Burgal’s Bounty was born.  This time, I would be the artist.


First sketch of Burgal and Burgette

With the change of direction with the art style, I decided I would also give the game a story.  I would create real time in game cutscenes that tell the story of Burgal’s Bounty, and why Burgal was stealing money.  This is how Burgal’s super sexy girlfriend, Burgette, was introduced into the game.  By this time I had wonderful ideas, and a small degree of confidence I might pull off the artwork, so it was time that I dive right in and get the game moving again.  What could possibly go wrong?

I don’t know how to draw!  For some reason I started with the thing you should do towards the end when it comes to making a game.  The game icon.  I had no actual game assets - just a few sketches of how Burgal would look.  When I finished the game icon it looked hideous.  That little bit of confidence I had going into this quickly vanished and a feeling of dread once again consumed me.  I remember texting the graphic to my brother (and former graphic artist for the original two versions of Phat Professional Burglar) saying: “This looks awful, doesn’t it?”  And that’s when I got my confidence back.  He suggested a few small changes to it, and all of sudden it really came to life.  I did not post this icon to any facebook / Discord / Slack groups.  I just decided that this was going to be the game’s icon without any real feedback from the public.  I have, however, used it as my profile picture in various Slack and Discord groups resulting in my getting the nickname Batman...  I guess there is a small resemblance.



GX3 was 3 months away.  I still didn’t have a playable game built in Unity, but I did have a lot of graphics designed now.  I had to quickly change gears and finish coding the thing before December.  I took 20 levels from the Android / Windows Phone / MS DOS release (almost all of the levels were the same across the versions) and reskinned them for the game.  I had my first ever public demo of the 4th version of Burgal’s Bounty ready in time for the expo.  This was absolutely the most personal version of the game.  The graphics were all me.  The sound effects were all me (previous versions used sound from stock sites - but largely the latest version was all made by me using the amazing sound of my voice ;) ).  And most of the levels in this build were designed by me.  I was ready to have my project torn apart - I mean shown off - to the public for 3 days in San Jose, California.

I won!  I won!  That is to say the expo was a lot of fun, and Burgal’s Bounty won Best Indie at GX3’s social media contest.****  The experience was extremely validating, and motivating.  Going forward I would begin working on the “overworld” / level select screens and move onto the game’s opening cutscene. 

As I previously mentioned, Burgal’s Bounty originally had no story.  Version four was going to get a deep and intricate story though with murder and intrigue!  No I am just kidding.  This game’s story does not take itself seriously at all.  The first cutscene is about 45 seconds long and it took me about 20 hours to complete with all of the assets, animations, audio, etc.  I enjoyed seeing reactions from people when they would first play it and laugh at jokes, and enjoy the art style.  It gave me some hope that I could continue to actually build an audience for this version of the game.





These confidence boosts sure helped me prepare for the soul destroying effort that finding a publisher would be…

Part 3 is coming soon.

Blair


**PlayCrafting is an organization dedicated to game development education.  They are setup in numerous cities throughout the US and also organize a number of game expos.  Find out more about them at www.playcrafting.com 

***Perhaps, to give her the benefit of the doubt, she may have never taken the project seriously as a commercial endeavor.  She may have thought she was just helping out a friend.  In any event, none of that was ever communicated with me and I would rather not speculate.  On the plus side, Betty Anne was working for revenue share in the game.  I did not pay her any money.


****The Best Indie at GX3 was a social media contest.  I made a link on Phat Games’ Twitter feed and on the website that allowed people to send out a Tweet at the click of a button.  It worked, and Burgal’s Bounty won!  Apparently people will help you if you ask and make it easy.  Who would have thought? :P

Friday, December 15, 2017

Join the Heist: The Story of a Burglar named Burgal and the Game he Starred in (Part 1)

With the upcoming launch of Burgal's Bounty, I wanted to write about the long history of the game and some of the challenges of the development process.  Burgal's Bounty is coming to iOS and Android on February 15th, 2018.

Before I begin, I want to provide some context for this blog. This is not going to be a story of a game development’s sorrows and success - there are a enough of those. My story does not involve major health issues or major financial issues during the development process. I have read many blogs about both and let me tell you they are intense. I truly feel for the developers who are fighting cancer while working on their passion. This blog will also not include much technical information about the development process (though there may be a small bit here and there). Lastly, as I do not have permission from anyone to use real names, all names have been changed in this blog except for mine. This is a story about Burgal’s Bounty and how it came to life...

Burgal’s Bounty was not the original title of the game - It was called Phat Professional Burglar starring Burgals (with an S instead of just Burgal). It was the brainchild of myself, my brother (Tom), and a close friend of mine (Dick) in my parent’s basement in January of 2001. Phat Games was made up of 4 people - but our music guy (Harry) was not really involved in Phat Professional Burglar because the game had no music. We were generally making games in our spare time as part of an online QBasic game development community and had started making them back in 1993 starting when I was only 10 years old. Being 2001, computer technology could do much better than what the original Phat Professional Burglar ended up being, but at the same time we were making a game in a language that had significant technical limitations.* Further to that, the levels were not designed with casual game players in mind. We didn’t really think commercially with Phat Professional Burglar and even mid-core to hard-core gamers would have found the levels we designed to be extremely challenging. When the 3 of us designed the levels, we were just trying to compete with each other to make the hardest level - not so much make the game fun. As one might imagine, it resulted in an extremely difficult game. The game’s play mechanics included a timer that was counting down and when it reached zero it was game over. Also there was no mouse support - it was keyboard only. The game was build for MS DOS - another restriction of QBasic. Looking back at this all these years later, I seriously have no idea what we were thinking.



We released it for download on our website back in April of 2001. It had 50 levels, no story, and a small fan base mostly based in the QBasic community. If anyone is interested, It is available on the Internet Archive. You will need DOSBox to run this game. https://archive.org/details/PhatProfessionalBurglar

Phat Professional Burglar for DOS would be the last game Phat Games would complete for 10 years.



A lot can change in that time. For one, I thought any sort of game development was part of my childhood and that I would ever make games again. I was also no longer living in Canada. I decided to immigrate to America and live in the big and bustling city of New York. While visiting Canada over the holidays of 2010, my expectations about game development would be changed yet again. Like many times in my childhood, this part of the story takes place in my friend’s basement. The iPhone and Android phones had been on the market for a few years at this point and the App Store and Google Play opened up the market for Indie Developers allowing for anyone to self publish - allowing for us to get back into game development. Dick was making a game. He had ported the original MS DOS version of Phat Professional Burglar to C# using XNA for graphics. He was planning to release it on the Windows Phone. Now, I am sure everyone reading this just groaned. Yes the Windows Phone was a complete failure. Yes XNA was abandoned by Microsoft. However, at the time we were hopeful that Microsoft’s smartphone market share would grow. Honestly, it was a pretty good device...and so were the latest Blackberry phones... Remember those?... Anyone?







I did not have much involvement in the development of this version of Phat Professional Burglar. Tom redid the graphics, Dick coded the entire thing, and I did some testing and some level design. Early 2011, Phat Professional Burglar was released to the Windows App Store (I can’t remember what it was called back then). It made no money, but because the Windows Phone had a small market, the game was downloaded more than 10,000 times. No one paid for the full version - the market being fickle is not a new thing.



The development of the ports of iOS and Android started soon after - really just the port to Android. So if the ports started development in 2011, why is the game not coming out until February of 2018 you ask? Read on!

I started developing the Android version in native Java using OpenGL for graphics. Why you ask? I don’t really know. I think as it had been 10 years since I had developed anything, and the only languages I had developed games in prior to this was QBasic and C++ I think I just decided I wanted to make things as hard as possible on myself. I started developing the engine in my spare time, but then I got a new day job. I had been working as a Software Consultant in New York since I had first moved to the US in 2007. Due to a series of issues pertaining to my immigration, I needed to find a new job (with an employer that would continue to sponsor my immigration). As such, in the summer of 2011 I started working for a new company that would sponsor my visa status and support becoming a permanent resident.

The new employer required me to travel to client sites all over the US pretty much full time. As a result, I was able to only put a few hours a week of development time in at most. A game engine that should not have taken terribly long to build was going at a snail’s pace. Eventually I stopped all together for almost a year. It was not until I saw Indie Game: The Movie that I my motivation sparked up again. This time I tried to stay on top of it the best I could, but I was overly sleep deprived and was maybe only putting time in every other week. Finally, when I was sent to Oklahoma for a really bad project, all work on the game halted. By this time it was summer of 2013 and I had a long way to go. On the plus side, the game engine was pretty much done at this point.

It was a long year. My last flight to Oklahoma was in July of 2014. I had just gotten my green card 2 months earlier. My next project was sort of “local”. The round trip commute was only 3 hours every day. Yeah I know it still pretty much sucked, but I was able to work on the game again during the commute. I was making progress again! However, for some time an idea had been brewing. Now that immigration was no longer a concern, I had the opportunity to quit my job and take a stab at this full time like many other indie developers before me (and many after). I started looking at my finances and started planning to see how long I could do this without having a job. I negotiated a deal with the rest of the Phat Games team that would let me develop this (and other games) and basically pay the old team royalties if anything I did ever made money. As I continued to get everything in order, I realized one of the challenges I would have with this is that I would be entirely alone. I knew no one in the New York Indie scene or where to go to meet people. However, that would quickly change in 2015 right when I was about to leave my job to plunge into this full time…

Part 2

Blair

*The FreeBasic Community (born from the old QBasic community) have modernized QBasic removing many of the limitations the development language had.  www.freebasic.net

Monday, January 16, 2017

You'll never believe what you will get if you click on this! (MAGFest Retrospective)

Greetings and salutations all,

It appears that it is the style of the times to write a retrospective on how MAGFest went for Phat Games / Burgal's Bounty.  The format will follow a standard agile sprint cycle retrospective because I like to keep things concise and to the point :)  But before that, I want to take a minute to say that this year was Phat Games (and my) first time at MAGFest.  I was blown away.  Never in my life have I had such a great experience at an expo!  Everyone was kind and respectful, there to play games, and also there to provide great feedback.  MAGFest was a very positive experience and I am looking forward to going back next year as an exhibitor or as an attendee!  Without further delay, the retrospective:

What went well:
1. The vast majority of people who played the game seemed to really get into it.  I have never had an expo where so many people would sit down and play through the first 10 levels plus the boss fight.  It was a heart warming and validating experience.  We have been to other expos before, but nothing like this in terms of positive response from the game.

2. Generally, many people who played it also enjoyed the story.  This was the first expo where people went out of their way to consume it and they enjoyed it.   It was awesome.

3. We received a lot of constructive criticism.  I am actively working on implementing a lot of the feedback we received.

What did not go well:
1. There were a lot of bugs found I did not know about.  Most of them are fixed now though :)

2. The tutorial.  It gets the job done in terms of teaching people how to play, but many of the  hardcore gamer crowd, that was there, found it annoying.  It's a difficult thing to balance though, as many people also told me that they liked how the tutorial did not make them feel stupid :)

3. 24 hours.  If I had more help I would have loved to stay open 24 hours.  But as it was, I found myself exhausted after core hours.

What needs to be improved for next time:
1. The Phat Games booth.  While it wasn't bad, it did not really live up to the vision I had.  If I had a little bit more space, and more tape I could have probably made it work.  I would like to see MAGFest for next year cordon off 10 feet x 10 feet spaces so each indie knows exactly the borders of their own space.

2. Press.  I tried to find press who would be attending on Twitter but did not have any luck.  I also was not able to meet any and no one introduced themselves :(

3. Next time I will see if I can find one more person to help out.  I would like to keep the booth open longer next time I go.

That's all.  I hope you enjoyed this quick retrospective on MAGFest.  Burgal's Bounty will be coming out soon!

- Blair

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

No Saturated or Trans PHAT!

Whoops! Did it again! Except this time we waiting 3 months to update our blog.

First of all, let me wish everyone Happy Holidays! I hope all of our fans are having a great and enjoyable holiday season.

Here is the latest on Burgal's Bounty:
1. We are going to MagFest!  Really soon!  If you are interested, you can try and still get tickets at www.magefest.org.

2. We launched the trailer, and finished another boss fight and have made some play mechanic improvements.  You can watch the trailer and footage from the new boss fight below.  Reddit told me that the boss fight is like "Showing off an open wound."  The internet is so friendly.

3. We want to launch the game this spring, but here are our plans for it:
- We are not going to launch without any chance of making some money off of it.  As a result we are looking for a publisher.  We first reached out to Noodle Cake earlier this year and they did not pick the game up...  as a result of that we ended up improving the game by adding panic mode and boss fights.  As such we are not going to firm up an exact release date until we better know how we will proceed.  I can promise this, if we are still unable to get a publisher, we will still launch it.  We will need to localize the game first though.

- We are considering making it a tablet only game on mobile.  We have not decided on this, but the small screens do make it difficult to play.

- We are still planning on an Mac and PC launch.  It will not be a direct port.  The control structure will be redone to make the game easier to play with a mouse or game pad.

Upcoming Events:
1. MagFest - January 5th to the 8th, National Harbor, MD - Tickets
2. PlayCrafting - January 26th, New York City, NY - Tickets

Videos:


Until the next time!

- Blair

Monday, September 19, 2016

How to get skinny by eating PHAT!

Hey all!

Magic is happening!...or something!

Burgal's Bounty has made it past the first round of judging for MagFest next year! For those of you interested in going to MagFest in 2017 should check out the site. It is the first weekend of the New Year - Jan 5 to 8th. Come check it out, and hopefully you can come check Burgal's Bounty out there as well! We will be sure to let you know if make it!

But...! In the meantime we will be going to GX4, GX East, and the PlayCrafting Halloween expo. Dates are listed below.

We are currently working on the first trailer for the game. It's coming along slowly... but it's getting there! The game itself is coming along great!

The game will launch with the following:
- Over 40 Playable levels
- 4 different play modes
- 4 bosses
- Multiple collectable costumes
- Other unlockable material

Upcoming events:
GaymerX4 in Santa Clara, California from Sept 30 - Oct 2 (Tickets)
PlayCrafting in New York, NY on October 29th (Tickets)
GXEast in New York, NY from Nov 12 - Nov 13 (Tickets)

Until next time!

Blair

Sunday, August 14, 2016

I dropped my keys in the toilet!

Oh man! Boy, those were a pain to fish out :(

In all seriousness we have a couple announcements. First and foremost, we could like to invite all of our wonderful community of fans to attend FlameCon in New York on August 20th and 21st. Tickets (while available) can be purchased here.

Next up: Boss fights. We have been talking about them for awhile but they are finally here - at least the first one. It was certainly challenging to convert a puzzle game to an action game for a single level but the results are definitely worth it. Please check out the game play video below!



We hope to see you at Flame Con!

Until next time, join the heist and steal lots of money!

Blair

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We suck!

Greetings blog readers...whomever you may be ;)

We suck. Not going to apologize, because I do that too often about never posting a blog update so I am going to stop. :) However, just because we have not been posting on blogs and social media the last little while does not mean we have not been making excellent progress on Burgal's Bounty! Over the last couple of months we were at Indie Cade East and at PlayCrafting's Spring expo! Both were great and tons of people played and enjoyed the game. As always we received valuable feedback and great comments about the game which we always love to hear!

So what's new?
We are getting the game ready to submit to publishers again later this summer (or early fall). The game is really starting to take shape. Story mode is playable and in a few weeks both Puzzle and Panic mode will be playable as stand alone game modes as well. Please note we have renamed Arcade mode "Panic" mode.

The boss fights are not in yet, but those will come later yet this summer. We have really beefed up the tutorial as based on the feedback from Indie Cade East and PlayCrafting it definitely needed some improvements. I am not going to make any promises, but I think we are getting close to announcing a release date for this great game!

When can you see us?
Awwww, how sweet! You actually still want to see us and hang out with us and play this awesome game! Well we are delighted to hear that. Here are our upcoming expos:
PlayCrafting:
Location: New York City
Date/Time: 7/28/2016
Tickets

FlameCon 2:
Location: New York City
Date/Time: 8/20/2016 - 8/21/2016
Tickets

GaymerX 4:
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Date/Time: 9/30/2016 - 10/2/2016
Tickets

New Screen Shots!