Auro Release Date: July 1, 2014

auro promo

It’s official: Auro’s release date is July 1st, 2014! That’s exactly 1.5 months, 6 weeks, or 45 days from today. And July 1st isn’t “the day we’ll be finished working on it” or even “the day we submit it to Apple/Google. July 1st is the day that you’ll actually be able to purchase and play Auro!

For this reason, we plan to have the game completely finished by June 1st, then a couple of weeks with the “gold version” for final testing, and then submission to Apple/Google on the 15th. Let me break down what exactly there is left to do with these 6 or 7 remaining weeks. This is maybe more for our use than it is for yours, readers.

Also, it goes without saying that in addition to everything written here, all of us are of course doing a million other small tasks for the game – especially me. I’m the guy who mostly tends to the forums, deals with game balance, does ALL our web stuff, most of our marketing, and probably 10 other things I’m not even thinking of right now.

 

Note: I might make some edits to this in the next few days, but they’ll be light re-arranging mostly. Also these are, of course, estimates.

 

Week 0 (Now – April 18)

Keith: finishing up Story Mode. It should be completely functional by the end of this week (although still needing polish).

Mike: Saving/loading

Oren: Away this week!

Blake: Recolor some necessary sprites and portraits for Story Mode, make an overlay for Blast. Continue on remaining music.

 

Week 1 (April 18 to April 26)

Keith: Fix bugs, polish. Balance for Play Mode should be basically finished. Start importing all the new graphics to the spritesheet and implementing them into the game.

Mike: Finish Saving/loading. Implement basic functionality of “long-press for info”.

Oren: Make a new build for the testers. Work with Keith on spritesheet business.

Blake: Finish Argo’s Chamber artwork, music.

 

Week 2 (April 27 to May 3)

Keith: Implement Argo’s improved chamber (his current one is pretty lame, and it’s kind of the climax of the game). Implement/polish HUD graphics or other graphics.

Mike: Re-code walls system. Fix bugs.

Oren: Make a build. Fix bugs.

Blake: Any VERY minor art tweaks / SMALL detail assets, music.

 

Week 3 (May 4 to May 10)

Keith: Implement remaining aesthetics, fix bugs, polish balance.

Mike: Implement remaining aesthetics. Start looking into device-specific stuff.

Oren: Make a build. Fix bugs.

Blake: Opening Argo pixel painting. Minor art tweaks / SMALL detail assets, music.

 

Week 4 (May 11 to May 17)

Keith: Polish, balance, implement any remaining text or other details.

Mike: Device-specific issues.

Oren: Make a build. Help with device-specific issues.

Blake: Music.

 

Week 5 (May 18 to May 24)

Keith: Hype machine, bug fixes, prepare Kickstarter rewards.

Mike: Device-specific issues.

Oren: Make a build. Help with device-specific issues.

Blake: Music.

 

Week 6 (May 25 to June 1)

Keith: Continue doing many little things, balance, oversee testing. Start doing interviews and getting the HYPE MACHINE going.

Mike: Google Play Games and Gamecenter implementation

Oren: Google Play Games and Gamecenter implementation

Blake: Music.

 

 

On June 1, we put the game on LOCKDOWN, and only fix bugs. Then we submit on June 15. We’re almost at the finish line. May is going to be crazy!

Like I said, I’m going to be starting the hype machine, so if you have any suggestions or you want to do an interview, please contact me.

Auro Update for April 2014, and the Dinofarm Forums

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Time for an Auro update! This past month has been incredibly huge for this game – probably one of the most productive months on record, largely because I reached a threshold in learning to program that has allowed me to really start contributing on the code side (not just the game design, music, sound, writing, and web stuff sides). I’ll put this one in sort of a list-like format, just to spice stuff up. Here we go!

  • First of all, you can go check out the new Beta Updates thread over here to find out exactly what’s been going on, down to the nitty-gritty detail. In this post, I’ll just mention some of the big stuff.
  • I single handedly, with my own two hands programmed the entirety of the PLAY MODE metagame. You can now win and lose games which add or subtract from a big green XP bar. If you win more games, you level up. As you level up, the game gets harder. If you’re up to the Hard Mode levels, losing makes you lose XP. Even cooler: there’s a placement match when you first start, so that if you’re already good when the game comes out (as many of our beta testers already are), the game will automatically advance you to a higher skill level so that you don’t have to grind through the easier modes.
  • There’s also a Custom Games screen which allows players to “free play” an un-ranked game on any difficulty mode.
  • In the Custom Games screen you can also play MADNESS MODE, which has crazy, unfair and outrageous monster generation. You might face a level full of a dozen Slimes, or 3Yetis and 3 Troggles, or 20 rats. It’s unfair, unranked, and unpredictable!
  • The game now keeps track of all kinds of records, like wins and losses, highest scores on various modes, and more.
  • I mostly implemented a system of NOTES that will appear throughout the game. Think of notes as kinda like “loading screen texts” – little 2-3 sentence long ditties that give you some bit of lore, a tip, or some other strange thing. You can collect these, and the game keeps track of how many you’ve found.
  • Tons of balancing on the Easy, Normal and Hard modes. Can’t wait to get a new version out to testers to see what they think.
  • Oh, I also created a new commercial site for Auro – check it out at http://www.auro-game.com.
  • Yes, I’ve switched from the all-caps AURO to Auro. I think it’s better that way; AURO looks like it’s an acronym for something. Also we have a subtitle now – “Auro: A Tactical Bumping Game” is the full title. What do you think?

So them’s the updates. Things are generally happening on-schedule and I’m feeling good about getting this game out before the summer comes. With PLAY MODE basically 100% done, all that’s left to do is some story mode tweaks, bug fixes, and polish. Experienced developers are probably going, “oh is that ALL?!” sarcastically. I know that’s a lot, but we’ve now got three programmers on the job, so I’m pretty optimistic.

 

Blake has been busy, too. The new overlay icon for our new "Rotisserie" ability spell that rotates monsters in a direction

Blake has been busy, too. The new overlay icon for our new “Rotisserie” ability spell that rotates monsters in a direction

Dinofarm Games Forums

The other thing I wanted to talk about briefly is our forums, which can be accessed at http://www.dinofarmgames.com/forum/. The forums have been active since Auro began around two years ago, but in the last few months they’ve really taken off. What I really want for the forums is to create a place where somewhat like-minded people can get together to talk about game design and other topics, and recently that has become a reality. Some very high quality conversations have been taking place in the last few months, and if you like to talk about game design or anything in a very critical, clinical and not-personal way, you should consider coming by. Here are some of the best threads:

- A thread taking apart grinding and trying to parse exactly what it even is

- A great discussion about the fundamental differences between contests and games, and why “rankings” don’t work in games

- Is “reading” really a thing, or no?

A massive thread about stories in games and why they don’t work

As well as some lighter stuff, like this PC/Console/Web game recommendation thread and this iOS/Android game recommendation thread. Anyway, I’m posting about it because we’d love to have some more members. Please consider stopping by and inviting some friends. Oh, and as always, feel free to sign up for the Auro Beta in the Getting Started section of the Auro forum.

AURO Update Feb 2014! Winning!

Is it really February 2014 and this game still isn’t out?! Pretty crazy. We’re doing everything we can to get this thing out the door, and things are progressing smoothly. Bugs are being fixed, long-standing structural issues are being ironed out. Lots of old code is being cleaned up.

The bigger thing that’s exciting that I want to talk about is that recently, we’ve been making huge strides on the gameplay. Despite the fact that this game has already been super awesome to play for… probably over a year now, we’re continuing to make it better and better. I should note that this isn’t a Duke Nukem Forever style “polish the game eternally!!!” madness sort of thing. Our lead programmer Mike just has a ton of technical stuff that he has to do, and alongside him I’ve been making these changes – so it isn’t pushing anything back.

Besides, most of these gameplay changes I’m making are sprouting out still from the loss of Match Mode. Dropping Match Mode is a decision that I’m increasingly happy with. It just wasn’t even close to worth the amount of effort and resources it was going to take to do it right. And once I dropped it I realized that I can achieve almost all of what I wanted without all the multiplayer stuff anyway.

 

Winning

The thing that satisfies me most is that AURO is now not a toy, but a game – at least by my own prescriptive (and I think super useful) definitions for those terms. What I mean by that is that AURO now has a clear, achievable goal at all levels of play.  The gameplay modes we have now are Story Mode – where the objective is simply to beat the final boss, and three difficulty levels of Normal Game, with increasing point thresholds to beat. When you reach those thresholds, you win. The game tracks wins and losses, and you gain and lose experience in a meta-game for them, so there isn’t any “oh, I don’t like how this game is going, RESTART!” business. Also, the player actually has something to be shooting for, instead of the classic solitaire videogame problem of “you decide what you’re trying to do, at whatever point, and at the end you decide if you achieved that or not!”  To me, games that do this feel very incomplete, forcing the player to play designer when he should be free to just play.  So overall I’m really excited about this feature.

This is definitely a delicate issue, however. If it’s not framed and balanced properly, it could feel like “the game was abruptly ended at some sort of random point”. Logically I don’t think there is any reason that this should have to be the case, though – plenty of games have a “target amount of points” you have to reach to win, particularly European board games.  You could also say that a fighting game like Street Fighter is a “first to deal 100 Points of damage wins” contest, but I don’t think anyone thinks of that as like, “oh what the hell, I was playing and having fun and suddenly my opponent reached 0 HP and the game ended?!  LAME!”

So I think that just by making sure the difficulty is right, the metagame is there to support it, and the feedback for scoring is clear (like there should be indicators showing how close you are, when you’re 10% away, 5% away, etc), we should be fine. But, if we’re not fine, we can start looking at other thematic answers.

The Brashness Bar

To go back to the Street Fighter example, people are OK with that because they get that “HP” is like “life” and when it runs out, that’s that.  So what if we did score in a way somewhat similar to that?

For example, right now the target score for Hard difficulty is 150 points. So what if we do some thing where some “boss creature” or something has a “bar” of some kind, and it is depleting as you go? It’s still just points out of 150, but it’s subtracting rather than adding and when it reaches 0, you win.

Perhaps in Normal Game, it’s not Quillsh who talks to you, but instead Argo.  And maybe Argo has a CONFIDENCE METER, or BRASHNESS BAR or something like that, and every time you do something awesome – like kill a bunch of monsters – this meter goes down. He talks to you frequently throughout the game, and when his BRASHNESS BAR is full, he’s like a full on jerk to you, trash-talking you, intimidating you, and saying that he’s coming to attack the castle again today to break all of your toys!  Then as it reaches half-ish, he’s kinda like… less confidently making fun of you. When it approaches 10%, he starts getting worried, and at 0% he’s like “OK you know what this is stupid, LEAVE ME ALONE!”

To make it even more videogame-acceptable, we could even have it be that once you reach 0 on the BRASHNESS BAR, Argo freaks out and teleports in to attack you, and then you have a little “boss fight” against him (nothing particularly hard, he’s just a little harder than a Lich) – then killing him wins you the game. Because videogames end with someone dying, that much I know for sure!

What do you think? Work wise, this amounts to “creating a little bar graphic”, implementing it, and then me writing a ton of lines of dialogue for Argo, which I would love to do. I think this would also make the game more generally charming and help characterize Argo, who you don’t really see much of anywhere else anyway.

AURO News: Holding off on Match Mode, New Promo image!

Recently, I’ve come to some realizations about Trials mode, our sort of “meat and potatoes” single-player mode for the game.  Namely, that it should, like Match Mode, be played on a win/loss basis – not on a “get a high score, whatever that means” basis.  You can read a bit more about that here and here. (Keep in mind, on that first link to Dinofarm, some details have changed, but the thrust of Trials changes are the same).

For the past 3 weeks or so, we’ve been diving into the nitty gritty details of what implementing Match Mode would really mean for our team.  What back-end would we use to host all our multiplayer interactions?  How would our league system work?  What’s the structure of a match?  How much would all this cost?  And most importantly, how long is this feature going to take?

After tons of research, which itself took a lot of time, we have a very rough ball-park answer, and… it isn’t what we had hoped.  It’s hard to nail it down exactly, but what we’re certain of is that doing Match Mode right is going to take us at least an additional 3-4 months.  And we’ve been doing this long enough to know that that probably means more like 6-8.

Further, we’ve also looked into just how much non-match-mode-related work there is left to do on AURO – just on Story Mode, finishing Trials, basic social features, metagame, polish, bug fixing, and cross-platform support – and it’s also a freaking ton of work.  We hope we’ll surprise ourselves, but I personally find it believable that even if we were to drop Match Mode as a launch feature, we still might be looking at 5 more months until release.

So with that in mind, I regretfully have to announce that we are shelving Match Mode as a feature.  Considering how much work it will be, we also might even prioritize other cool features before Match Mode, such as a puzzle mode, a new, longer story campaign, replay functionality, or more.  So in general, I wouldn’t hold your breath on Match Mode.  I’m happy to have reviewed our Kickstarter campaign and noticed that there was no mention of Match Mode made at all on it, so we won’t be betraying our wonderful Kickstarter supporters by dropping the mode.

At this point, we just really want to get this game out, and dropping Match Mode is going to give us a huge boost towards getting there.  I’m sure you feel the same way after so very long.

 

In Exchange…

Since we’re losing Match Mode, we need to spend extra time and energy on coming up with great ways to make sure that Trials mode has a lot of good social features.  We don’t have a definite list yet, but some things we’re considering are things like: you can still send your result of a Trials mode game to a friend somehow, like perhaps it can still send them the random seed.  Or maybe you can post scores or even screenshots to Facebook and Twitter.  Maybe somehow you can “capture a moment” and share it with someone.  We’d love to hear your ideas, but the bottom line is, we want to make sure AURO is a thing that can build a community around it.  Let us know what you think over at the forums.

But also, Match Mode is actually less necessary now due to the Trials mode changes we’re making.  Trials can now function largely the way that Match Mode was going to, just, without the “multiplayer” aspect.  So yeah – Match Mode was going to be way more work, for actually, way less benefit.

 

Blake’s New Promo Image

Okay, now time for something nice and awesome.  Blake has been working on this promo image for probably 80 hours.  We’re considering trying to use it for a new title screen, but either way it will definitely get used as a banner, PC version title screen, or any time we need a horizontal image.  We think this image captures the dynamism and excitement of AURO a lot better than our original one.  What do you think?

new_auro_promo_illustration_by_picklestork-d72vc10Click to enlarge!

Anyway, the beta goes on.  Stay tuned here, because I’m gonna post soon about what final features Trials will have.  We’re looking forward to getting this game out to you guys, hopefully in as few as 3 months.  Somewhere in the 3-5 month range feels safe to me.  Thanks for your patience everyone.

AURO Beta Update, Jan. 2014

If you’re a beta tester, a new build went out today.  This build simply fixes some small bugs and also settles on a cross-platform version number (14.103), so nothing too exciting.  Why has the beta been a bit slow?

Last week, we embarked on a mission to really figure out how intense the work of adding AURO’s multiplayer mode, Match Mode, would be.  We’ve been looking into a bunch of different solutions for it.  One thing is that we really want cross-platform multiplayer – if you’ve got an Android phone, your girlfriend should be able to play with you on her iPhone.  This is pretty important to us, especially since we want it to be a serious competitive thing with leagues and rankings and everything.  It’s kind of lame if there’s the “Android Platinum league” and the “iOS Platinum league”.  Ultimately, if the solutions we’re looking into don’t work out, we might have to do that, unless Google Play Games starts to allow cross-platform matchmaking (which they currently don’t as far as we can tell).

This week, we’re hoping to finish the research project.  A big reason why we’re doing this is that like you, we really really want AURO to come out as soon as possible.  If our research determines that Match Mode is going to take more than 2 or 3 months to finish, we’ll have to do some serious thinking about it.  Worst-case scenario, we might have to launch without Match mode, and make Match Mode our first post-release priority, but we don’t expect to have to do that.

Are you, or do you know anyone who has released an online multiplayer game for iOS and Android that has cross-platform multiplayer?  If so, we’d love to talk to that person!  Please send me an email at info@dinofarmgames, or simply leave a comment below if you’re someone we should talk to.

Thanks a lot for your patience, everyone.  Take care!

AURO Beta Round 4!

We just sent out a build for the “12.19″ iOS version of AURO.  We also sent out an Android one the other day.  That means we officially started AURO Beta phase 3.  We’ve been in a deep, dark hole – or at least the programmers have – trying to get serialization in order.  That’s mostly behind us now, enough so that the game can be back in testers hands and functioning.  Right now, we’re in a bug-fixing phase, so we’d love our testers to come and report bugs over at the Dinofarm Forums.  After that, we’ll get started on Match Mode, and then on several other smaller features, a bunch of polish, and then – we’re basically done!  Who knew that a game could only take 2 years and 4 months to complete (or 2 years and 9 months, for me, as I started on the game even earlier!)?

Anyway, the point is, we’re moving forward.  Things definitely slowed down a bit over the last few months between the serialization madness and my working on Empire.  Empire‘s mostly done now, one more really big patch to go (for awhile – I hope we can continue to support it after that too, but it’s not totally my call – let Crazy Monkey Studios know if you want more updates!)  So it’s mostly smooth sailing from here.  We estimate that the game will take between 3 and 4 more months to complete, but that’s a conservative estimate.  Between Mike and our new programmer Oren, things are moving forward really consistently.

The state of the beta, so to speak, would be that the game’s gameplay is really strong.  I’d be happy with this gameplay on release, but what’s missing is strong metagame to go with it.  Trials is this toy-like sort of “get a high-ass score, a really seriously high score ok!?”  We need some concrete goals, and I wrote about that a bit last month.  Also Story Mode has some issues still, and Match Mode’s online stuff is barely even begun on.

Also, a somewhat sad bit of news, we won’t be supporting the flash beta of AURO on the site anymore, at least not for the foreseeable future.  Sorry Flash testers!  Hopefully you all have either an iOS or Android device though!

I’ll have a really great new painting to show you from Blake soon, as well as some new music and other fun stuff.  Stay tuned!  And as always, come join us on the forums and the chatroom!

AURO’s Game Modes and the Single Player Evergreen XP System

It’s been awhile since I posted a real nitty-gritty game design article about AURO and what’s going on.  Right now, AURO is stuck in development hell, as we’ve mentioned, largely due to two factors: the fact that we didn’t build the game with serialization in mind from the get go (we’re a bit bush league), and the fact that we are using Haxe, which it turns out has caused a ton of technical problems.  Anyway, this isn’t a technical programmer-y post, because I’m not a programmer and I really don’t know enough about that stuff to speak in more detail about it.

What I want to talk about today is AURO’s game modes.  Partially, I’m writing this for my own benefit, so that I can clearly state it out loud for myself and make sure that everything makes sense.  With AURO’s development being held up, I have some time to think about these modes and hone them.  In particular, I’m proposing a change to TRIALS mode – the other two modes are pretty much locked down and have been for months.

 

Story Mode

This mode is probably the easiest to explain and understand, which is great, because it’s also the first mode players should play.  It functions as both a tutorial (actually, there is an optional hand-holding tutorial in there too), and also an easy, explanatory mode.  The player has to travel through nine dungeons, meeting monsters who talk, getting advice from Quillsh, with several cutscenes along the way.  There’s a final boss battle at the end, and then a final cutscene.  If you’ve played videogames, you know the drill.

The goal in this mode is completion, and it’s designed to teach you how to play the game, be the most visually impressive (you see the most environments, special monsters, cutscenes, etc in this mode), and generally introduce you to the world and mechanics of the game.  Therefore, once these things have been accomplished, it makes sense that you’d move onto other modes.  So Story Mode, while still technically infinitely replayable (it still has randomized maps and such), is designed to be played once or twice, and then moved on from.

 

Match Mode

This is the primary way to play AURO.  In Match Mode, you start a game on a randomly generated level.  The levels generated by Match Mode can be really crazy – they can be something as simple and benign as a few rats, or something as horrifying as 2 Yetis, 3 Liches, 3 Curse Kids and a Troggle.  That sounds pretty unfair, until you realize that this mode is actually a multiplayer mode – well, sort of.  It’s multiplayer in the way that golf or bowling is multiplayer.  The randomly generated map that the game makes for you is saved, and the game uses a match-making algorithm to find an opponent of similar skill.  Then, it sends that opponent your same game, and he plays on that map as well.  Your scores are compared, and a Round Winner is pronounced.  Then you do this again, with the 2nd player now going first.  The first player to get 2 Round Wins is the winner of the game.

The game has an online leagues/ranking system similar to that of other popular online games.  You can challenge friends for fun, play pass  & play games, or even play a Practice Game that isn’t recorded.

The goal in Match Mode is competitive.  You’re trying to beat another player, and rise through the ranks, just as in Starcraft or Street Fighter or something.  Also pretty simple and easy to understand.

 

Trials Mode

It’s interesting.  Trials Mode is actually the classical mode that we had always envisioned being the primary mode of the game, but ironically it’s actually the hardest system to develop good rules for.  What I had been planning – and what may still ship with version 1.0 given that we’re already like 1,000 months behind schedule – is that it’s a simple “beat your highest score ever mode”.  So if 3 years ago you got a score of 379, you’re still sitting there now trying to beat that high score.  I have a few problems with this approach, though, which is why I’d like to change it.

For one thing, I don’t think “beat your highest score ever” is a reasonable goal.  Once you get a super-high score, you may simply just never be able to win again.  Also, there’s actually a bit of a weird thing where any points you get above your previous high score, are actually just kind of screwing you over in future games.  One person pointed out in some forums the fact that it’s kind of optimal in a weird way to beat your score by 1 point and then kill yourself.  I agree that’s weird.

I also think it’s bad because it necessarily means that players who get better get punished by having longer games.  A long, long game isn’t a problem because AURO isn’t a blast to play.  It is – but the fact remains that games tend to have some ideal length based on the length of their longest arcs… and AURO’s arcs are generally very short.  AURO is a super tactical game, and not a very strategic game.  So we want games to last somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes – not hours.

So because of this, a much better solution is actually to have the goal always be “Get 100 Points”.  But how do we do that in a way that’s evergreen?  Once the player gets 100 points, what else is there to accomplish?

 

Introducing the Single Player Evergreen XP System

I’ve designed a system, which I’m using in AURO, EMPIRE, and also another unannounced future project, which uses an RPG-ish experience points system to turn a single-player, score based game into an evergreen competitive thing.

Basically, the game generates a really easy game for you, and says “get 100 Points in this!”  If you do so, you gain experience points.  If you reach a certain threshold of experience points, you “level up”, and then the game starts generating a harder game for you.  Basically, there are infinite Difficulty Levels, which you don’t get to choose, but you move up through by playing and winning games.  Losing – failing to get 100 Points – also will result in losing experience points, so if you lose a few games in a row, it might de-level you to an easier Difficulty Level.  So basically, it’s like “dynamic difficulty adjustment”, but before the game begins, so none of that silly punishing-you-for-doing-well business.

The game gets harder as you level up by increasing the number and variety of monsters – not by increasing the target number of points.  In addition to this, points that you get above 100 will give you some bonus experience.

Interestingly, I learned this lesson after releasing EMPIRE, another game I designed for another company, and we’re working on that problem for version 1.2 of that game.  You can read about that over at the EMPIRE blog.

 

Anyway, them’s some thoughts on the matter of AURO and what’s going on with it.  In other news, I’m working on some of the last music I have to make for the game, and Blake is as well.  He’s also re-doing our title-screen art, crazy enough, to make something more dynamic, since we have a bit of extra time.

OTHER NEWS:  100 Rogues just had a nice update that fixed a lot of bugs and level generation!  If you haven’t played it before, now’s the time to go check it out!

Story about Dinofarm Games in Purchase Magazine

Blake and I did an interview with the nice people at Purchase College (where we met, actually, in music school) to ask us about what we do.  (Note:  I fixed the names, in the actual magazine, our names were flipped)  Check it out!

dinofarm purchase storyClick to enlarge!