Monday, 27 June 2011

Proun server back online!

Well, that's it, basically! I found a new host and now the Proun server is back online. This one is a lot more expensive and a lot more scalable, so I can only hope it is going to survive the large amounts of traffic Proun is getting! I know too little about hosting to really be sure, but people who do know stuff advised this one to me.

Right now just over one score per second is being submitted to the highscore server, so lets see what happens if that increases!

Can anyone help me find new hosting?

I just learned that during the weekend, 1.2 million HTTP requests were performed towards the Proun website. That explains why it went down...

So the hosting company pulled down the site and refuses to host it anymore: they are aimed at small sites and don't offer deals for this kind of traffic. However, I am not a hosting expert, so I am not sure where to get hosting instead. So if any of you happen to know a lot about where to get good web hosting for this kind of traffic, then it would be awesome if you could email me to find a solution for this! My email is joost -at- ronimo-games.com.

As for specifics: I think most of the 1.2 million HTTP requests were for the highscore system, so that means lots of PHP and MySQL code being executed on the server as well.

So this is also a status update for people waiting for Proun's highscore system and official site to get back online. I am working on it, but this is more difficult than I was hoping for... :(

Here is the temporary website for Proun again: www2.hku.nl/~joost1/Proun. You can buy and play the game just fine, but you won't have online highscores for the moment. Working to get that back!

For players getting freezers in the highscore screen: check the solution here.

And to give you something to look at in the meanwhile: the first user tracks have already popped up on the Proun forum. It's incredibly cool! Just take a look at this picture from Archipelago by JohnArr.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Proun website temporary move

My webhoster has disabled the Proun website, because it was generating too much traffic. I put an alternate server online, which can be found here:

temporary Proun website

However, it will be a few days until the highscores get back online!

Argh, I had no idea what "too much" was going to be, but apparently it has already been reached. :(

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Proun OUT NOW for PC! And: the long history of Proun

Yes! After six years of development, Proun has finally been released for PC! I hope you like it! Proun is sold as Pay What You Want, which means that you can set your own price. You can choose to pay nothing at all, or you can pay some amount of money. You can even choose to first get it for free, and then pay afterwards if you like it! As a little extra incentive, you get a short and colourful bonus track if you pay at least $2! To celebrate Proun's launch, here is a new trailer:



So, six years of development, how did that even happen? It's not like Proun is the size of a game like Love, so six years may seem a bit long. In short, there are two reasons:
-I created Proun in my spare time;
-there were long intervals during those six years when I didn't work on Proun at all.

Since Proun pretty much evolved around my life and many projects during the past six years, I feel it makes an interesting story to tell how it came to be. :)

The very beginning of Proun happened on the grave of the most failed project I ever did. In November 2004, during our second year at the HKU (Utrecht School of the Arts), our class was split into two groups of thirteen students each. We were to create a race game. Being young and stupid, both groups tried to create really big 3D racing games with unique mechanics. We were way too ambitious and both groups failed horribly. Half the models that were made for our game Speedcore were made with broken bone sets and could not even be put in the game... Speedcore was playable though, it just totally sucked!



Afterwards, my friend Huub van Summeren told me that he had proposed a really simple project to his group, and that that was rejected as not interesting enough. Oh the irony... He told me it was a racing game in which you rotate around a cable to avoid obstacles. Simple and fun. I really liked how the entire world could rotate around the player, so since Huub was not planning on doing something with it, I started developing it myself. Of course, this is the concept that later became Proun! So, thanks Huub, for the great idea! :)

Being an art academy, the HKU leaves a lot of room for students to do their own projects and get grades for those. So in May 2005, I started working on Proun, then called CableRacer. I was still a student and had to learn a lot about the Ogre engine and generating meshes and bezier curves and such, and I decided to build my own exporters and plugins for 3D Studio MAX. Yet I still got the game up and running in a couple of weeks. It looked terrible and some of the math was pretty broken, but it was already a lot of fun to play. Proun has a really simple concept, but everyone I playtested it on enjoyed it almost immediately!



After the Summer of 2005 I stopped working on CableRacer for almost a full year. First I went to Germany to do an internship at the now defunct Collision Studios, where I created 3D normal mapped models for the shooter Red Ocean. A funny coincidence here is that the publisher of Red Ocean was DTP, which is currently also the publisher of our own Awesomenauts!



At the time I didn't know whether I wanted to be a programmer or a 3D artist. I am really happy that I did my internship as a 3D artist, though: I have been a full-time programmer on everything but Proun since then and I would never have experienced what it is to be an artist if I hadn't done that at the time. And in case you are wondering: I had a lot of fun doing 3D art and programming and in the end only became a programmer because we didn't have any other programmers for Ronimo Games, and already had enough artists.

When I came back from my internship, the school project De Blob started right away. Since I already had a good core code base for Proun, development for De Blob started with stripping Proun and working from its foundations. This way we got the 3D physics gameplay of De Blob running in a couple of days and could continue from there. I didn't work on Proun during this period, but when De Blob was finished, I immediately went back to Proun and added all the improvements I had made for De Blob to Proun as well.



So now we get to Summer 2006. The biggest topic to me at that point was Proun's graphics. I first wanted to go for Mondriaan's Victory Boogie Woogie, but Mondriaan's work is so incredibly straight, that I didn't see how to get that to work with the curves of Proun.



So instead I went for my new love: Kandinsky. The expressionist abstract works of Kandinsky are my favourite paintings in general and I wanted something similar for Proun. However, I wasn't that good at shader writing yet and had no idea how to get this to work. Just have a look at the horrible picture below to give you an idea...



While looking through a book about Kandinsky, trying to think of a way to do 3D graphics in that style, my eye fell on Kandinsky's later geometric abstract works. These are beautiful as well, and here I immediately knew how to implement this! I had already been doing lighting of 3D scenes for many years at that point (I started playing around with 3D Studio MAX when I was 13!), so I immediately started experimenting with shapes, colours, and above all: lighting.



Now just when Proun's graphics and gameplay were finally coming together, I got so busy with various other projects, that I had to stop working on it for three full years. The first project was another school project, this time an assignment for Guerrilla. This became a crowd control game set in the Killzone universe, and just like De Blob before it, it was build on the tools and core code of Proun.



After this project, we started Ronimo Games and started working on our first official Ronimo game, which was again build upon Proun's foundations. This project was called Snowball Earth and in the end got cancelled because we couldn't find financing for it. We intend to release the prototype at some point, but for now I cannot say too much about that. Anyway, keeping to tradition, this project was built on Proun's foundations as well.

Of course, after that we started working on Swords & Soldiers, which became our first console game at Ronimo, and went on to win awards and get tons of really good reviews!

Anyway, so Proun is a spare time project, why didn't I work on it next to Ronimo at that time? Well: I was also studying Game & Media Technology at Utrecht University and finishing my Master's Thesis for that was my spare time occupation at that point. I spent my weekends writing and researching for that during two years.

So when that was finally finished in June 2009, I spent three weeks gaming all day during my long Summer vacation. And then I got bored and made a 3D baroque church dome. Euhm, a what? Somehow, once in a while I just have to make a 3D model with lots of ornamented pillars. No, don't ask why, I don't know either!



At some point I got stuck on the baroque dome, due to a computer that was too slow and a lack of skill with truly realistic lighting and materials, and decided to give Proun a try once again. After three full years, I hardly knew in what state I left the game, but I quickly got up and running with it. I had learned a lot at Ronimo during the past three years, so I went about development a lot quicker now, and released a trailer a couple of months later.

Around this time I read an article in a newspaper about an exhibition at the Van Abbe Museum that featured a number of El Lissitzky's works called Proun. I had been looking for a proper name for CableRacer for ages and somehow this fictive word that El Lissitzky had made up perfectly fit my game. El Lissitzky made dozens of works called Proun and calling my game like that as well felt like a nice homage to the abstract pioneers of the early 20th century.



At this point I thought the game was almost finished, and I had the luck of finding someone who was willing to help out with the music and sound of Proun. I had initially planned to do everything myself, but I couldn't get my songs to sound as good as I wanted, and I hated making sound effects. So it was a small miracle to me when Matthijs (from Control Magazine) introduced me to Arno Landsbergen. Arno had made an album called Dirty Rock. That album not only sounds great, but also reminded me of early David Bowie, who happens to be one of my heroes! So I rejoiced when Arno got on board! Arno improved and produced my compositions, and created all the sound effects for Proun.

Little did I know at that point that I was going to spend two more years creating more tracks and polishing everything to make it a complete game... But I have to say, if I look at the end result, I feel very proud that I actually finished it, and I hope you will like it! During those six years I grew a lot, both as a person and as a game developer, and I think this shows in the final result! ^_^



Congratulations on reading through this enormous wall of text. Now head over to the Proun website and download that game!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Proun's game design

On this blog I have talked a lot about the graphics of Proun, but so far I have hardly discussed the gameplay. Last week's trailer got lots of reactions and some of them were wondering whether the gameplay is deep enough to remain fun. (Actually, it's the internet, so things were worded a bit more extreme... ;) ) So let's have a look at how I designed Proun's gameplay, and why.

The core concept guiding Proun's design is simplicity. The more things that need explaining to the user, the worse the design. So I basically went by the well-known design philosophy easy to learn, hard to master. I don't think all games always have to have a very simple core, but I do think focussing on the basics and making those as good as possible is a good start for almost any game.

Since I had these really minimalistic abstract graphics for Proun, I felt the gameplay should also be minimalistic. Something than needs a dozen buttons to play would definitely not fit the rest of the package. So Proun, I pretty much went the same way: easy to learn, hard to master. I wanted this to be a pure racing experience that is focussed on having fun by improving your racing skills. The core is really simple: press left and right to evade obstacles to go as fast as possible. So this is very much twitch gameplay in which you try to improve your racing skills and remember the track.

This kind of twitch gameplay is often most fun when you can quickly try again and again and again, each time hoping to do a little bit better. Two games have been released in the past year that expertly show how to do this well: Super Crate Box by Vlambeer (who happen to be my neighbours), and of course Super Meat Boy. Proun's tracks are a bit longer than the average life/death cycle of these two games, but they do have a somewhat similarly fast experience based on lots of retries to do a little bit better.

A nice benefit of going with a core that is easy to learn, is that Proun is not just suitable for hardcore twitch gamers, but also for people who hardly game at all. Just like De Blob before it, this makes Proun an excellent game for festivals and museums. Festival visitors don't do tutorials, and they walk on really quickly, so they need to be able to enjoy themselves immediately. Proun is also excellent for small children: my 4 year old nephew enjoys Proun too! :)

The Championship Mode is a nice introduction to get to know the game, and a good way to keep you practising to unlock higher speeds and a bonus track. A good reward structure is really important for any game and though Proun is intended to be a small downloadable experience, I still felt I needed some interesting unlockables: higher speeds and an extra track.

However, Proun really shines when played in Ghost mode. Racing directly against your own previous times exaggerates the competition with yourself and makes it fun to keep trying to get a better time. That is why I made it possible to race against not just the ghosts of your best time, but against the ghosts of all your previous times. The more you have played a track, the more fun this becomes.



In the very first version of Proun, there was a definite best time for each track: keep accelerating throughout the entire track and don't hit anything to score a perfect time. This sucks. Once you have achieved this once, there is nothing left to do. You cannot do any better. So I introduced several mechanics to shake this up and make sure it is always possible to improve your skills.

The simplest solution to this is having difficulty settings. The higher the speed, the higher the difficulty. On the highest difficulty ("Speed of Light"), you can go four times as fast as on the easiest mode. This make it nearly impossible to achieve a perfect run. I played my own game a million times and I haven't been able to race through any of the tracks without ever letting go of accelerate and without crashing. So here is a nice challenge for anyone getting the game next week: try to win the Speed of Light Championship. The opponents on that difficulty are my own best times and they don't cheat, so if you can beat them on each track, then you know you are more pro than I am! :)

Much more interesting than just increasing the speed, though, is the slowdown that I added when you rotate around the cable. The less you rotate, the faster you go. This means you can improve your time by steering closer past obstacles (which is also more risky), and that you can look for the ideal route through a track. So now there is also a serious challenge in trying to find the way to race through a track with as little rotating as possible.

This core mechanic is already a lot of fun, but it does not really contain that much choice. You always know what you have to do, you just need to do it at the right time. To add an extra layer, I have added chargeable boosts. If you keep accelerating for 12 seconds without hitting any obstacles, you get a boost that you can use any moment you like. When used, a boost will make you go extremely fast for 2 seconds.



Of course, boosts are a very common concept in racing games, and in Proun they added just that little bit of strategy to take it to the next level. Deciding when to use the boost is a fun mini-game, since crashing into obstacles costs more time than the boost won. On the lowest two difficulties there are plenty of places to use the boost, but once you get to Supersonic speed, it takes some courage to use a boost at all. But if you have the skill to not crash, you go blazingly fast. Boosts are a small touch, but they really add a lot to the gameplay and tension.

In total, Proun's gameplay is very much a less-is-more affair. If you enjoy trying to get the best possible time, Proun will really shine and keep you going for a long time, especially if a modding community comes into being and starts releasing cool levels (which I can only hope, of course, though the first modder tracks have already been made). If you are not this hardcore, I think Proun will still be fun for a couple of hours, due to the different speeds, the award structure, the splitscreen multiplayer, and of course the pretty imagery to look at while racing.

As I said in a previous post, I don't think all game have to be long and I hope that Proun is a small but awesome gem to some. :)

PS. You may have wondered how a paused blog can get so many posts recently. Initially I wasn't planning on pausing this blog for four full months, but finishing Proun took longer than I expected back in February. Well, anyway: Proun is coming next Friday and my blog is hereby officially unpaused! So welcome back! ^_^

Monday, 13 June 2011

Proun will be "Pay What You Want!" Here's why

Proun will be launched on June 24th for PC, and you will be able to set your own price! To celebrate, I have made a new trailer that shows the features of the game:



Pay What You Want means that you can choose yourself how much you want to pay for Proun. Really like it? Pay me for it! Just want to give it a quick try? Then don't pay and just download for free! Feel guilty afterwards because the game turns out to be more awesome than what you paid for? Buy it again! ;)

So, the big question: why? Why like this?

Most importantly, I would like as many people as possible to enjoy Proun. If I set a fixed price, some people won't be willing to pay that and thus won't play Proun.

Another aspect is that I have only recently started to really make money with making games, but it is still less than the legal minimum wage in the Netherlands. I have been making games for at least 50 hours per week for several years now, and it would be nice to actually make a living out of it as well! Not that I should be complaining: I currently earn just enough money to pay rent and buy food, and I enjoy every single minute of this creative life!

I initially announced that Proun would be free for a couple of reasons, not just because I wanted as many people as possible to play it. There is also another reason. If people pay for your game, then it must meet certain minimum quality standards. The game needs an installer. It should run on almost any PC with almost any videocard. I should test it on many dozens of computers to see whether it works everywhere.

Since these things are no fun to do and since I made Proun in my spare time, I did not feel like doing them at the time. So by releasing the game for free, I thought I could get away with that.

However, for some reason I ended up doing all these things anyway. (Maybe because I am a psychotic idiot? Sounds reasonable! Blub-blub-blub.) There is an installer now. And graphics settings. And the beta has been tested by 10.000 people. Somehow, whenever I can improve something, I cannot keep myself from doing it, no matter how boring the work.

So in terms of quality, Proun is commercially releasable now! :)

Some people may complain that Proun doesn't have as many tracks as Need for Speed 37, but I personally think games don't always have to be big, just as they don't always have to be expensive. I did the best I could to make a small experience that is really good and really special. My dream is that to some people, Proun may be a little gem. My favourite game of the past 10 years is Machinarium, and yet that game is pretty small too: I finished it in only five hours. Short to game standards, but these are some of the best five hours I ever spent. I guess Proun can't compare to that, but I hope Proun will be a great ride nevertheless!

Not that Proun is small for every player: if you like hardcore twitch action, then getting highscores on the insanely fast highest difficulty will keep you going forever!

Another reason to make Proun Pay What You Want, is that it feels like a very fair method to sell something. Why should I tell you how much this game is worth to you? Why not decide that for yourself? Deep down inside I don't like the cold rules of capitalism (although I do believe that it is the best system known to mankind), so I'd like to see if doing things in a fairer way can work.

To give gamers a little extra incentive to pay something for Proun, I have added a fifth bonus track to the paid version. This track is shorter and even more colourful than the other tracks, but if you like Proun, then I am sure this track will be a nice extra! ^_^

I am incredibly curious to see how this ends up. How many people will pay anything at all? How much will they pay on average? What will be the highest price some benevolent person will pay for it?

About a month after Proun's release, I will share the numbers of this experiment here on this blog. I guess some of you may be just as curious as I am to see how this works out!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Awesomenauts trailer released!

At Ronimo Games we recently announced our new game, Awesomenauts, and today we have released the first trailer!



There is also a bunch of new screenshots on the Awesomenauts website.

The first thing everyone notices here is the incredible theme song that Sonic Picnic created. They did a great job at reviving eighties hair metal and created just the right tune to get gamers pumped up for some hot action with the Awesomenauts! This will shine even more once we reveal the intro animation (!) that comes with it...

However, I would like to point your attention at something that few people will notice with these short bursts of gameplay footage: the graphics. When we made Swords & Soldiers, we hardly had any tools, as I described previously on this blog. Since then our team has grown and we have spent many months creating real-time editors for levels, animations and particles.

During Swords & Soldiers, our engine (the RoniTech 1) was a very minimalist creature, but now with Awesomenauts the RoniTech 2 has evolved into a grown-up multiplatform engine with tools and everything else one expects from a full 2D engine.

The result is that artists can decorate our worlds and animations with all kinds of details. Leafs move in the wind, waterfalls flow in the background, dust swirls up when you walk and we even have some aliens peeking from behind rocks once in a while. The level in the trailer contains some 6000 objects, and that is excluding the static ground over which the player walks (and which actually fills half the screen). Many of those 6000 objects are particle systems that emit dozens of particles. If you look at this trailer really closely, you can see all kinds of details and parallax layers.



As we release more info and footage of Awesomenauts over the coming months, I will show clearer examples of this, and discuss how we managed to create a real-time editor that gives artists the possibility to literally animate every property of every object. And I guess I will also have to discuss the challenge of getting a good framerate in the vicinity of team of artists-gone-wild...

Anyway, for now enjoy the awesome trailer! And as soon as I get back to regular posting on this awesome blog, look forward to lots of awesome articles about the awesome tech of the awesome Awesomenauts!

(Sorry, from now on I will try to keep the usage of the word 'awesome' to a minimum...)

PS. Next week, when the storm that is called E3 has lessened a bit, I will release a new trailer of Proun and announce the exact release date and method!