Monday, April 7, 2014

Digital Piracy Paper

Hey, I wrote a paper last year and just found it. I thought that since it dealt with piracy and shit, it'd be interesting to post here. It starts a little shaky, but it's ultimately a pretty good read! :D

Thesis

Digital piracy in the United States of America is both a new crime and a new form of youthful rebellion in an age where traditional acts of rebellion have become less effective in the face of both contemporary and historical litigation and increasingly powerful mega-corporations.


Internet Piracy and the Response

In this digitally connected world, and during this era of blatant technological worship, we see many new and different types of crime emerging every single day. Look back thirty years and consider the idea of bullying a person from halfway across a city with a device smaller than your hand, or the idea of infiltrating a massive corporation and stealing thousands of credit card numbers while sipping at your morning coffee. In the seemingly distant past, these ideas were the talk of science fiction and of nonsensical futurist babble, but now, in the present these are not just ideas anymore. Nowadays, this is the reality of the landscape--a digitized landscape where crime has escalated from simple isolated incidents and localized interactions to potentially worldwide issues, spanning entire nations and involving governments and organizations the world over. In the face of such a global disaster, it’s easy to place the blame with technology, however, it’s important to note that not only have the crimes changed during this period of digital and traditional polarization, but so have the involvements of people in them through the establishment of our digital and anonymous arena: the Internet. In this paper, I will discuss only one of the most recent, but potentially more far-reaching, of these new-age crimes, digital piracy, but in a way that will help us to understand how it really affects certain industries in the United States, their responses and how it is being used not only criminally, but as a form of anonymous protest.


Brief History of Digital Piracy

Digital piracy in the United States of America is both a new crime and a new form of youthful rebellion in an age where traditional acts of rebellion have become less effective in the face of both contemporary and historical litigation and increasingly powerful mega-corporations. For all of the beneficial and benevolent advances that technology has made for us, it has also inadvertently created new routes for us to take towards lives of wrongdoing and of crime. Only “[eighteen] years ago the term “file-sharing” [which means allowing one computer access to files on another through the Internet] was unknown;” and before the advent of programs such as Napster (1999) and file-to-person websites like The Pirate Bay, the impact of digital piracy was a moot point not worth discussing (Liebowitz 1). But, in 2013, digital piracy has become the face of legislation for the Internet regulation in the United States of America. Because of it, various bills have been proposed, such as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act), which is considered SOPA 2.0, and these have been causing ripples all throughout the online community (Little). In less than twenty years, and only fourteen since the impact of Napster, digital piracy has become an oft discussed topic among the technologically conscious and business minded. It has a short, but rich history--one that deserves exploration in an effort to understand the vast pool of information surrounding it.

Ever since the ability to copy information quickly and efficiently became prevalent through the invention of the photocopier, by Xerox in 1959, the age of copyright-infringement, or “pirating” had begun (Liebowitz 1). On the Internet, it began with Napster, a file-to-person program, or a program that transfers files from one computer to hundreds of others through copying an original file. This program, that allowed users to download and listen to music at their leisure for free, changed the way music was distributed and brought the concept of file-sharing and illegal downloads to the public domain. Since then, the progression of digital piracy on the Internet has been swift; soon after Napster’s demise, and “within two years of its birth,” file-to-person had become an Internet phenomenon, leading the media to a focus on the ripping of files, torrents, piracy of programs and the birth of a plethora of other file-to-person programs such as “Kazaa,” “eDonkey” and torrent, described as rapid file-to-person, programs, like BitTorrent (Liebowitz 1).

It was the ease of “piracy,” as it was soon called, that made it such a dramatic issue in the United States and around the world. Before the Internet and file-to-person programs became widespread, easy-to-access commodities, copyright infringement, or the core of the legality issue with piracy, was left to localized incidents and other, less efficient methods such as audio-taping, video-recording and the ripping, or copying, of media off of disks onto computers (Liebowitz 1). In order to steal, or “pirate” a video, which in itself was not too great an issue, an individual had to jump through various hoops; simply purchasing a camcorder and finding a way to actually use the information that you recorded being two of them. In the past, it was a difficult and time-consuming process to be a pirate and the bottom-line was that it would only ever be used privately by a small number of people; therefore, such “piracy” would not dramatically influence the copyright holder or cause too many problems for a business (Liebowitz). But then, with the propagation of file-to-person programs, torrent downloads and Napster, local file-sharing suddenly evolves into full blown, widespread digital piracy, becoming a serious issue all around the world.


The Response to Piracy

The biggest issue is that no one knows exactly how to stop digital piracy, or, as addressed by Matt Mason in his book, The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism, if it should even be stopped in the first place (Mason 37). The future of piracy through use of the Internet is interesting. Millions of people have illegally downloaded files and billions of files have been shared by hundreds of different file-to-person, and person-to-person programs (Mason 38). This collective force has given the casual browser of the Internet access to an infinite source of entertainment at the expense of businesses and investors the world-over. Conceptual legislations like that of CISPA and SOPA have been introduced, and subsequently shot down as a response to the growing issues of cyber crime and piracy, while traditional copyright legislation has had little to no effect on contemporary court cases regarding digital piracy, leaving rulings open to personal judicial scrutiny (Little). At Reflexive, a relatively small video game studio and the developer of games Wik and Ricochet, the effects of piracy are dramatic. In an article written by Russell Carroll, “Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth,” it’s stated that over 90% “of the people playing the full version of Ricochet Infinity [had] pirated it” (Carroll). A number that large is astounding, and as Carroll, Director of Marketing at Reflexive, puts it, “it was hard to get past the magnitude of the number itself: 92%.” Therefore, for businesses and companies like Reflexive, the issue of digital piracy is not whether or not there is a future in digital piracy,--that is certain--but finding a way to fight it in the present.

Look among casual games, where a large percentage of the industry is linked to the Internet as a general method of distribution, and it’s very easy to see that “piracy is a common problem” (Carroll). Finding and illegally acquiring a video game is as easy as opening up Google, typing in the name of the game and adding the word “crack” to your query (Carroll). The response to software piracy has been varied, but at Reflexive, the choice was made to fight piracy with an in-house form of Digital Rights Management, or DRM, which is a moniker for a safeguard that should help protect products from being stolen and distributed. However, contemporary pirates have developed a multitude of different ways to beat Digital Rights Management and each of these approaches are different and cause a different set of problems that software vendors have had to learn to deal with. Described by Russell Carroll the big three piracy tools are as follows: exploits, keygens, and software cracks (Carroll).

An exploit is a hole “in a DRM that can be circumvented without downloading anything to the computer.” This boils down to locating files or programs already on your computer and utilizing and manipulating them to get around Digital Rights Management. Exploits are seen as a dated technique for avoiding DRM programs in the world of digital piracy as Digital Rights Management has improved and adapted itself over the years to prevent exploits from being easy to find and use (Carroll).

Keygens, or serial key generators, are small, secondary programs that generate codes that unlock the full-version of games that DRM programs are trying to protect. “Most DRMs work around an encryption system that delivers the full game to players but limits them to a … trial” (Carroll). Keygen makers have determined the algorithm with which a program’s serial codes are generated and write the program that creates new codes that the DRM deems as valid; this allows users to circumvent the DRM and access the full-version of the programs or software that the DRMs are trying to protect.

Cracks, according to Carroll, are “perhaps the most commonly mentioned type of piracy” and work by either lifting Digital Rights Management from a program completely, making it free to the user, or by impeding the DRM with a secondary program that the user runs alongside the pirated program. “Cracked games” as a term, refers to “DRM-free version[s] of ... games that [were] cracked and then distributed by pirates” (Carroll). Software cracks and cracked games can be otherwise described as “patching,” or updating a game so that it no longer has DRM present in or on it and, in general, these “cracked” games and programs are obtained via traditional methods of file-to-person sharing and person-to-person file-copying.

Digital piracy is a large issue for businesses and consumers, so Reflexive and their Director of Marketing have decided to fight back through the use of various DRM programs. The effort, however, may not have been as effective as they would have liked, as “every 1,000 pirated copies … [that were] eliminated, [Reflexive] created [only] 1 additional sale.” For this particular company, DRM had limited piracy, but it had not converted pirates into consumers. That was an interesting paradox; many pirates would not purchase a program if they could not get it for free. Digital Rights Management was not effective in the conversion of illegal downloads to sales, but it did, however, upset those who were purchasing the software legally.

Just the idea of Digital Rights Management has recently become an area of intense controversy for those companies that fight against piracy and for the users that legally acquire and utilize these programs. It’s difficult to create DRM that has been created “without making [it] so onerous that it keeps honest customers from purchasing games” (Carroll). In light of this issue, a subset of the video game industry akin to independent filmmakers, who also have to deal with the issues of digital piracy--the film, the Hurt Locker, for example--has developed its own response to piracy, that response being a very small, or nonexistent response at all.

Artist Paul Greasley’s quote, "[t]he Cockroach edition was actually not an attempt to cut down on piracy, … [i]t was just one of the liberties of being an indie developer, with nobody to answer to” describes, in brief, the independent developer mindset (Caoili). He speaks of an edition of his game, Under the Ocean, released alongside the original that was edited and released given away for free to satire pirates whom he knew would steal his game. Hotline Miami developer, Jonatan Soderstrom made note that he “[didn’t] really want people to pirate [his game],” but he didn’t actively try to stop them because he understood why they did it (Caoili). Instead, after finding his game on The Pirate Bay, a prolific and popular torrent and pirating site, he decided to assist the people who were stealing it, even going as far as to issue fixes to their various problems, asking that once the game was patched, or fixed, that the page be updated with the newest version.

Ultimately, these independent game designers did not try to stop piracy with DRM, but instead allowed it to happen, hoping that their leniency and good-natured assistance would, at some point, convert pirates into purchasers. Surprisingly, this method worked and with McPixel, another independently made game, developed by Sos Sosowski, The Pirate Bay actually sponsored a paid version of the game on their webpage, leading to “thousands of copies” sold, massive publicity, and a successful game (Caoili). Hotline Miami also quickly became a success, selling over 130,000 copies in seven weeks, according to publisher Digital Devolver ("VGChartz." Video Game Charts.). Thanks to their unique approaches to dealing with piracy, all of the games mentioned in Caoili’s article, “Some indies don’t fight piracy, they embrace it,” “picked up a lot of buzz” and managed to become moderate to extreme successes. However, despite these indie success stories, larger corporations and other mediums, such as the film and music industries, still incorporate limiting restrictions, apply DRM and file lawsuits against pirates, all at the expense of the people who legally acquire their products (Liebowitz 22-23).


Piracy As Protest

This war against digital piracy has led to a new kind of pseudo-peaceful protest where piracy itself has evolved into a tool that the average individual can use against companies and entire industries when traditional methods of protest simply no longer have any effect. By looking at a massive, productive video game publisher like Electronic Arts, or Activision, it’s difficult to see how piracy could possibly be affecting them. Games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, published by Activision in 2011 and SimCity, published by Electronic Arts in 2013, have sold over a million copies each, with the former selling over twenty million copies across all platforms ("VGChartz." Video Game Charts.). Success comes to these “evil” companies despite the traditional backlash from consumers, in the way of petitions and public outcries. According to the media, these mega-corporations seem to ignore their customers, incorporating DRM into their software and hardware only to increase their profit to revenue ratios, without regard for the consumer on the other side (Schreier).

It is because of situations like this, where a corporation strives to become more profitable at the expense of its user experience, that piracy has become a tool of the “punk capitalist” to combat the oppression of the consumer by the mega-corporation (Mason). “In the 1970s punk was youth culture … [but,] [t]oday we live in a world where … anyone is capable of becoming a change agent” (Mason 14). Just as punks in the 70s existed to challenge the establishment and the power of capitalism in America, pirates exist now to challenge the power of corporations with too much money and more power over consumers than they should have.

The advantage, or disadvantage of digital piracy in this landscape, depending on how you look at it, is that now, anyone with a computer or smartphone can challenge the establishment. Unlike with punks where it was your face and your body on the line, digital pirates are a mostly anonymous group. So until bills like SOPA or CISPA pass into existence and devastate the environment of online anonymity, pirates are essentially free to file-share, and torrent, and combat the mega-corporations with every dollar. And while the risk is present, the litigation and infrastructure hasn’t quite reached a place where it’s too risky for people to pirate casually. Therefore, pirates will continue to pirate until it becomes too difficult for them to protest, and occasionally just steal, in this manner; but by then another group, similar to the punks or the pirates before them, will probably arise and change the landscape once again.


Works Cited

Caoili, Eric. "Some Indies Don't Fight Piracy, They Embrace It." Gamasutra. UBM Tech, 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.

"Some indies don't fight piracy, they embrace it", by Eric Caoili, is a short collection of stories about how a few independent game developers are simply embracing internet piracy instead of attempting to fight it. He doesn't argue anything, but quotes several developers of internet fame such as Jonatan Soderstrom (Hotline Miami) and Sos Sosowski (McPixel). Both developers have embraced piracy and responded by helping pirates pirate their game, leading them to great success instead of monetary disdain. The article was written by Eric Caoili, a writer for Gamasutra, the face of video game developer news, opinions and help on the internet. This article is helpful for my paper as it provides both a supporting and an opposing view for another one of my cited articles, supporting the "90-plus percent" piracy rates and opposing fighting back against pirates as a successful plan of action.


Carroll, Russell. "Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth." Gamasutra. UBM Tech, 12 Feb. 2008. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.

"Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth", by Russell Carroll, paints a "startling" picture about the realities of internet piracy in the casual games space and offers insight on how a company can try to combat it through Digital Rights Management (DRM) and other means when DRM fails. The column explores how pirates "beat DRM" and the tools that they use to do it: keygens, cracks, exploits, etc. Carroll references his studio's own games and uses real statistics to explain the truth of internet piracy. Russell Carroll is the director of marketing at Reflexive (a game studio) that has created games like Wik and Ricochet and the article was written for Gamasutra, the core of game developer news, opinions, and teachings on the internet. "Casual Games and Piracy: The Truth" is useful to me due both to its discussion of DRM and how pirates "beat" it and the various approaches developers have taken to overcome piracy of their wares.


Liebowitz, Stan J. "File Sharing: Creative Destruction or Just Plain Destruction?*." The Journal of Law and Economics 49.1 (2006): 1-28. JSTOR. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.

"File Sharing: Creative Destruction or Just Plain Destruction?", written by Stan J. Liebowitz is a scholarly text about the sharing of sound recordings over the Internet and how the controversy has become an ongoing battle between copyright owners, copying technologies, and regular people. The text draws a connection between "changes in file sharing and changes in record sales" and discussing how growth in one may be leading to a decline in the other. Written by Stan J. Liebowitz and published in the Journal of Law and Economics in April of 2006, this work is very well-cited and peer reviewed for accuracy and publication. As a scholarly text, this publication will assist in my research by giving me accurate, well-supported and documented information that draws lines between internet piracy and declining sales for a variety of companies. While the journal focuses on record sales and the music industry, the information pertaining to internet piracy is valuable for my research.


Little, Morgan. "CISPA Legislation Seen by Many as SOPA 2.0." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 09 Apr. 2012. Web. 08 Mar. 2013.

"CISPA legislation seen by many as SOPA 2.0", by Morgan Little, discusses The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA) and how many people are interpreting it as the spiritual successor to SOPA, another bill that was potentially putting the freedom of the Internet in the USA at risk. SOPA was controversial because it could give control of the Internet to the government, allowing it to take down websites for arbitrary copyright "violations", however it was shot down by Congress due to high profile support from corporations such as Google and Facebook. With CISPA "an ISP could even interpret the bill as allowing them to block accounts believed to be infringing, block access to websites ... or take other measures provided they claimed it was motivated by cybersecurity concerns." The ability for CISPA to be interpreted in this way, and not only for legitimate threats has caused controversy surrounding the bill. The Los Angeles Times is a leading source of news in California and Los Angeles. Morgan Little is a writer that deals with contemporary web-related articles at LAT. This is an online publication and while not cited, provides the sources used via in-text links as many online newspapers do. This article would be useful for my paper due to it's overview of the similarities between CISPA and SOPA, two large issues pertaining to internet piracy. It also provides insight about those companies that support and do not support the bills and why.


Mason, Matt. The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism. New York: Free, 2008. Print.

"The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism", by Matt Mason is a print source that questions whether we fight pirates or learn from them, analyses how youth culture has influenced the world today and how this new culture has brought about a new issue for companies and organizations: internet piracy. Written by a former UK pirate DJ, "The Pirate's Dilemma" compares pirates to revolutionaries and explores how they are changing the world by challenging the foundations of new-age society. Matt Mason is a blogger, former internet-pirate, DJ and an author that has experienced piracy first-hand and is intrigued by it. This book is useful to my research as it provides an in-depth, but not focused, analysis of piracy, youth culture and how the two are related to one another. Ultimately, it provides a well-cited, backed-up catalogue of events, programs, and ideas and relates them all to one another.

Schreier, Jason. "Your Complete Guide To The SimCity Disaster." Kotaku. Gawker Media, 18 Mar.

2013. Web. 07 Apr. 2013.

"Your Complete Guide To The SimCity Disaster", written by Jason Schreier discusses the disastrous launch of SimCity, a game developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts. The article is more or less a summary of all of the various problems associated with the launch, starting with a description of the game and leading itself into the various issues that plagued the launch. The issue of most interest to me for the purpose of the essay is the "always-online" aspect of the game and the responses of EA and Maxis to the people who wondered why it had an always-online requirement when it could "work well offline". It's a blog post written for Kotaku, which is a leading resource for video game news. These posts have varying quality, though they generally source all of their facts to other, generally more credible resources. I chose this a source because it is an overview of the entire situation surrounding the SimCity debacle and that's all that I need.


"VGChartz." Video Game Charts. VGChartz, n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <http://www.vgchartz.com/>.


VGChartz.com is a solid statistical web-site that pulls information from various statistical sources in order to generate accurate sales figures for thousands of games. The website is credible because it collects “publicly available video game sales data” and creates figures for games based on that information. Absolutely accurate sales figures for video games are extremely difficult and expensive to come by and so the accuracy of VGChartz is the very best that I can get without spending ludicrous amounts of money. The information gained from this website is helpful to me because it allows me to show how well games are selling despite the problem of digital piracy.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Boatventure: Getting Bloggy

Some Boatventure and some Railwar! Two games being developed by ACPC Productions crossing over. Art by Meghan.

[Re-post from acpcproductions.com] Hello everyone, it's Ryan Huggins, a game designer here at ACPC Productions and I'll be running the Boatventure blog. We've just *really* gotten into working on the game after finally settling on Unity after having built several prototypes in Game Maker. I'm currently busy working on the first iteration of the game and am taking a break to set up this blog. To begin this blog, I'm just going to throw up a few pictures, but I'll be updating periodically every time I make visual progress on the game; and sooner or later, I'll actually talk about the gameplay... The .gif at the top of the list is an example of the basic movement implementation and the current (rudimentary) system for cycling through your boat modes.

Gameplay Prototyping
Boatventure! Basic movement implementation!


Screenshot Mock-ups

A mock-up by our artist, Meghan. Boatventure has gone through a ton of artistic revisions these last few months. This is an example of being at the surface of the water.


Another mock-up; Meghan and I have been doing a bunch of work trying to figure out the style for Boatventure. We've got a lot of work to do, but the style's finally getting to a place that we like. This is an example of underwater exploration.



Character Art

This is the original concept art for Wynona. A main character (but not THE main character) of Boatventure.

This is a grandma. She is also a pirate.

Tears and blood. We're not sure why she's crying, but Meghan felt compelled to draw it. Classic Ghibli-style tears.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Update and Boatventure: Log 3

Just messing around with some boat ideas
So, it's about time I return to a roughly weekly update schedule. This last semester has been the semester that's supposed to weed out all of the bad game designers and it has been reasonably difficult, but as far as I'm concerned it wasn't hard enough. A lot of the work was just busy work that prevented me from working on side projects, like Boatventure, but didn't actually teach me much. That's why I haven't been updating these last couple of months.

Luckily, ACPC Productions and a few other developers at our school just recently started a game developer's association, the Extracurricular game Developers of Champlain (EDC). We've just begun a three month development cycle called the Marathon and I'll be working on Boatventure. Other than that update and some new concept art stuff I don't have much else to say this week!

Click for the fullsize image!
Us wondering how the world will actually be built.



Monday, August 12, 2013

Boatventure: Log 2

Newer concept art. Not in new resolution.
After roughly a week of development, there's actually not a great deal to discuss. This week has been spent mostly organizing some bits of code, adding in very small functions (like health bar drawing, screen shake, and zooming in and out (automatically)), and tracking down a memory leak that was INEXPLICABLY caused by Game Maker: Studio's absolutely awful debugging console. Literally, I spend every day for FIVE days rewriting all the code in Boatventure because I honestly thought that the memory leak might have been my fault. It really impacted how well-written I thought my code was and in a lot of ways burned me the fuck out; all for me to just figure out (on my own btw because Yoyogames apparently doesn't respond to tweets or questions about memory leaks) that the memory leak was being caused by the Game Maker debugger.

Needless to say I was extremely upset that I wasted so much time when Yoyo Games' "professional" software, that costs roughly 400 (soon to be 700) dollars, causes unexplained memory leaks in your games because they can't spend a few hours to fix their debugger.

To be honest, this experience has in a lot of ways soured my opinion of Yoyo Games and their Game Maker: Studio software; but if their 1.2 update is as good as they make it sound I might consider sticking around and using it. Otherwise, I will probably port the project to Unity and make it there instead.

Regardless, because of this situation I've burnt myself out and decided to recover by doing a "thunderdome" with the team. We just decided to begin writing an actual story for the game, so we thought a thunderdome would be a good way for all of us to end up happy. A thunderdome is a technique where each person on a team comes up with a fully fleshed out and detailed design for a certain thing, independent of one another. After everyone has their fully developed idea, they all present them to each other as equals and discuss the merits of every idea presented. Ultimately, the team chooses the best ideas from each proposal to make it into the game. We're currently doing this for the history, characters, story "beats" and overall feel of the story.

Outside of that though, nothing new to report, but here are two older pieces of concept art.

This was made by Jack, our musician. He scaned in some textures and was testing them in this image.

This was one of the original concepts for Boatventure. We don't really like it as much anymore, but it's nice to show!
Expect Greatness.
Ryan Huggins~

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Student Developer: Microsoft Surface Pro - Log 3 + Boatventure 2013

WHO IS SHE? She is the co-lead of BOATVENTURE 2013!
Boatventure 2013 Dev Log located below the Surface Pro: Wrap Up.
The Surface Pro: Wrap Up

It's been roughly 2 weeks since I decided to use the Microsoft Surface Pro as a tool for game development and in these two weeks I've decided that the Surface Pro is a great tool for developers on the go, but not yet a perfect replacement for a desktop development environment. Most of the problems stem not from the internal hardware or the power of the system itself, but in the available software and the size of the screen (which surprised me in how much it could hinder productivity). The Surface Pro did a lot of great things for me--it ran pretty much everything, let me draw and sketch ideas like I was using paper, connectivity was solid and the type cover made it comfortable to program for hours--but there were a few issues that slowed me down and helped me determine that, for a software/game developer, the Surface Pro is a stellar secondary device, but only a decent primary one.

For a primary device, the screen size was much too small for me to easily multitask, especially when it came to managing 8+ code windows at once. That was probably my biggest issue and it ended up inhibiting me more than I would like to admit. A few other smaller issues, like the length of the charger and the quirks of Windows 8 also, upset me, but it was definitely the screen size that convinced me to return to my desktop for big projects.

However, where the Surface Pro truly shines is in its ability to be an amazing portable device. If I was to go out for a few hours--an example would be a class--where I needed a light device that could power through all of my college activities, let me sketch ideas, and make code edits (or even create full programs in a reasonable amount of time), the Surface Pro would absolutely be the device I would choose. It's just when you ask it to become a primary device that it may fall short for heavy developers.

Do I recommend it? Yes. And I already have to several people. It's just important to ask what you want the device to do before you purchase it.

Boatventure 2013: Development Log 1

A great example of prototyping in action.
These five silhouettes are no longer part of the game.
Today marks the beginning of the weekly (or occasionally bi-monthly) development log of Boatventure 2013 (20XX)! I was working on the first draft design/prototype of the game during my two week test of the Surface Pro as a development device, but sadly (or wonderfully), that prototype bombed and helped us to determine that our core mechanic just wasn't fun! First, here's a bit of background
After many years of global warming, the majority of planet Earth has found itself submerged beneath a torrent of rising sea levels while much of mankind has been wiped out by the resulting influx of superstorms. In recent years however, with humanity at the brink of extinction, the Earth has finally begun to stabilize itself. The majority of those who survived this global warming-related apocalypse have taken refuge on what little dry land remains, while others have taken to the seas themselves, searching valiantly, for any remains of civilization until the depths claim their lives as well. Thrown into the fray without any hesitation for adventure, you play as a boat scouring the ocean world, searching for a way to kickstart a new civilization, and somehow resurface the world that now lies beneath the tides.
If you take a look at the images above, you'll see five ships and a submarine. In the first design of the game, the player would be able to unlock new, larger ships and then cycle through them at will during the gameplay in order to solve puzzles or just lay down the law to other ships. The system was based around a mobility-power dynamic, where the smaller ships were more mobile, but the larger ships were more powerful. Luckily, it became apparent during prototyping (and prior to that, in some arguments with the musician, Jack Yeates) that the system might not be fun, or at least be terribly difficult to balance. (On that note, check out one of our MANY concept songs and maybe let us know what you think!)



In a true designer fashion, I don't like really like scrapping cool conceptual systems without testing, so I insisted that we prototype it out; and for a few days, I thought it would work out, but it quickly become more and more apparent to me that cycling through different boats was a fun mechanic, but that the power vs mobility dynamic was not. At all.

In the end, we got rid of the different sized boats, but kept the idea of cycling through multiple specializations of ship. This means that you can unlock new ships with a new type of weapon (like how Megaman unlocks new weapons) and cycle through them in real time. In addition to this, we're considering a Cave Story-esque mechanic where each ship can "tier up" by doing well, obtaining a more powerful weapon in the process. Like Cave Story, however, they can also level back down.

It's important to note, that unlike both of the mentioned games, we plan to make sure that every type of weapon has some sort of gameplay purpose (akin to The Legend of Zelda's items) to aid in the exploration! So cannons might be able to break down certain walls, torpedoes can destroy underwater rocks, and battering rams could maybe let the player push objects that would normally damage them. Each different weapon corresponds to a different specialization. (We're still coming up with more like an anchor grappling hook.)

A bit of a very basic platforming scenario. TAKING PLACE AS A BOAT!!! :D
In addition to the combat, it's important to remember that the game is an exploration-adventure game where the player is literally a boat. We've spent a lot of time thinking about how the player can get around (and we have a lot of ideas!) Though, one of the tested mechanics that was really positively received, was the submarine mode. Since your boat has the special ability to change into different ships, it can, naturally change into a sub to explore the deep-sea depths! In addition to this, the player can unlock a lot of other cool tools for exploring and getting past obstacles that they couldn't otherwise get past.

Submarine mode is my personal favorite though. It literally and figuratively adds depth to the game and will let us design some really cool areas to fight in, explore, or solve puzzles in, whereas the other ideas are more combat orientated with the added bonus of increasing mobility (Castlevania-style).

So, hopefully, you like the idea of Boatventure! It's really shaping up to be an amazing, beautiful, stylistic adventure game that we can be proud of; and our secondary protagonist at the top of the page, is shaping up to be a great character. More on the main character in the coming updates. :)

More sketches of our super cool co-lead! 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Quick Rant: Ugly "Journalism"

EDIT: This was written while the Phil Fish and "Annoyed Gamer" debacle was going down on Twitter. I was mostly upset by the comments about how developers should be grateful to journalists for covering their games and less upset about Phil getting bashed (because he retaliated in some not-so-good ways).

Let me begin by saying that no matter how successful a developer is, it's NOT okay to attack them; even if it's just "on the Internet".

To be honest, I'm not even sure what to say about how, today, Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow were disrespected by the latest Invisible Wall video at gametrailers.com (source). They were essentially insulted and slandered for several minutes because they were tired of being called upon to comment on every little rumor solely due to their success as indie developers. Some people get tired and upset when they're bombarded by questions and asked to comment on every little thing. Of COURSE they'd eventually speak up about it. They're not journalists who always want to talk about the next big story. They're barely celebrities. They don't get PAID to comment on things. They get paid to make things--to make games that people like. So WHAT if they don't want to comment on everything that has to do with the industry. Especially rumors that are commented on, over and over and over again like the new generation of consoles.

But then, that's not even the issue or what I'm upset about. Who the fuck cares about that. I'm upset that after this happened and after Phil Fish got upset about someone BLATANTLY attacking him on the internet (who wouldn't be upset and take to twitter to vent?). I'm upset that the internet took this as an opportunity to just go crazy and start personally attacking him and--to a lesser extent--Blow on the internet. I mean what?! These people make great games. They dedicate so much time to making games that people will like and that can stand as pieces of art and then they get slandered and insulted for being successful?! Even if you don't like them as people, they're successful developers. And yet, as the "annoyed gamer" in the Invisible Wall video put it, Phil Fish and "Blowfish" should be grateful to journalists for promoting their games.

Let's think about that. The developer of a good game should be GRATEFUL when a journalist, whose JOB is to find games they like and promote/talk about them, promotes their game. Journalists (usually) don't choose to write about games out of the goodness of their heart. They choose good games so consumers get the greatest product or that drive the greatest number of hits. Phil and Jonathan aren't EVIL people, they're just outspoken developers; and even if you think they're assholes, you definitely shouldn't be insulting them publicly.

I'm personally insulted that this is the kind of place the industry has become. A place where successful developers can't be outspoken about their success and where journalists think that they are entitled to comments and time from developers just because they choose to promote their games. No game is ENTITLED to promotion by journalists and they're not "lucky" when they get promoted. Promotion happens to good games or to games that people like. Just like a journalist can refuse to promote a game, a developer should be able to refuse to give a journalist a story, or a comment without getting shit for it.

My heart goes out to Phil Fish for being insulted like this and if I ever make it into the limelight with my team, we're definitely going to make a change.

And that's my rant. My Surface is dying and I have to make some lunch.

Expect Greatness,
Ryan Huggins

Friday, July 19, 2013

Student Developer: Microsoft Surface Pro - Log 2

Windows 8 metro/desktop multi-tasking can be good and bad.
It's been three days since I started using the Microsoft Surface Pro (in conjunction with Game Maker: Studio) as a tool for developing games. At the same time, it's been roughly two days since I've begun using Game Maker: Studio as an engine for game development (the first day was spent setting up my Surface for development). This mix of new experiences doesn't quite make for the perfect experiment, but it has given me insight into how a student (read: inexperienced) developer may fare using the Surface Pro as a portable solution to any number of problems.

The Surface Pro has many advantages over traditional laptops and tablets such as being portable (vs laptops) and blazing fast (vs tablets), but at the same time, it also has a long list of software and hardware bugs common to first generation hardware that don't exactly make it the perfect tool for everyone. Having known about these issues prior to purchasing it, these past few days with the Pro, have been a mixed bag of feelings as I adjust to the new work environment.

What Went RIGHT

Speed:

The Surface Pro is more than fast enough to handle the development of traditional 2D games in pretty much any situation. Outside of Game Maker: Studio, I've not had any problems in particular with any tool I've had to use to get things done. Photoshop, Paint Tool SAI, Visual Studios 2012, Steam, Chrome--pretty much everything runs smoothly. Game Maker: Studio seems to be slightly glitchy, though I'll chalk that one up to Windows 8; and it doesn't impede my progress much at all.

Art:

Making 2D art is CHILD'S PLAY on this thing. Open up Photoshop, break out the Wacom digitizer pen, and you're set to make game art at blazing speeds. Considering I'm not one of ACPC Production's artists, I don't actually make the art for Boatventure 2013, but since I originally bought the Surface for use as a drawing tablet, I've done extensive research and testing in this category. With the new WinTab drivers finally out (get them here), this thing is great for your artistic needs.

Programming:

Programmers with larger hands might want to get a nice Bluetooth keyboard (Logitech k810 or better) for long hours of programming, otherwise the type cover (not the touch) is actually pretty good for programming once you get used to the strange placing of some keys and disable the function lock (press Fn and caps lock together). Overall, without investing in an external keyboard, I've been able to reach my normal typing speeds without any perceivable discomfort at all.

What Went WRONG

DPI Scaling:

The DPI scaling is awful. This is a Windows issue primarily, but I almost wish they went for a lower resolution because of it. At 125% scaling (which I recommend to avoid the bitmap stretching), using non-Metro apps is pretty much impossible (sans mouse) without closing something by mistake. Text is super crisp though; and with a Bluetooth keyboard, I could TOTALLY see myself using the Surface in portrait mode for some portable epic programming marathons.

Track pad:

Pretty much, the standard track pad on the type cover is awful for development purposes. Coupled with the small size of things on the screen due to the DPI scaling, it's pretty much unusable. Absolutely necessary to purchase a wireless (Bluetooth) mouse if you want to get anything done in a reasonable time outside of minor tasks.

Battery Life:

This is an issue everyone knows about, but the battery life on the Surface Pro is not good at all. You could, if you wanted, plug it in when you're working, but isn't the point to do work away from home and the convenience of unlimited electricity? A Haswell upgrade or a battery pack keyboard could make this a non-issue, but I find myself stopping work to let the Pro charge, which could be a deal breaker for a ton of people. I personally use this time to workout, calm down and figure out how to fix programming bugs, but being forced to leave and come back (with fresh eyes, might I add), is not necessarily a good "feature".

Misc.

Other things to talk about might be 10.1" either not being enough room to work for some people, or the perfect size for others; or to perhaps gush more about how great the pen is, but I'll talk more about those things in coming logs.

Next time, though, I plan to talk a bit more about the actual project and how the Surface is influencing it's development.

Expect Greatness~
Ryan Huggins.