Thursday, June 22, 2017

Potato Thriller 1 Year Anniversary!

This post is like an hour and a half late, but it is still technically the 22nd in some areas so I will post this anyway! (Even though the posting date says the 22nd, I am actually posting this on the 23rd from my end because I was always too lazy to set up the proper date in my time zone. Actually, all of the dates on my blog posts are off by one day. This isn't making me look very professional. ANYWAY! LETS GET INTO THE ACTUAL POST NOW)

Today marks the one year anniversary of Potato Thriller! On this exact day (almost exact day) last year (June 22, 2016) I released a special version of the game originally called "Potato Thriller Steamed Potato Edition" on the Steam store. As an independent game developer, this marked a major milestone for me personally. I know that this game isn't perfect and it definitely is not for everyone but, it is a project that is very special to me and it is something that I am very proud of. This game marked many first for me. For example, this is my first game on Steam, this is the first game that actually got me feedback and criticism from players, this was the first lengthy game I ever made and so on. The list goes on and on.

With that said, I think the biggest one for me was that this was the first game I made that was actually being seen by people and played. which means everything to me as a developer and it is the most awesome thing. And I want to clarify that I am not trying to make it sound like I am saying "oh a lot of people bought this game and I made a ton of money, look at me i'm a successful game developer har har har" - This isn't what I am trying to say at all. Honestly, I barely made anything off the game. But I don't want to get into that stuff. This post isn't about money or success or bragging rights or anything like that.

What I mean is that, as silly and stupid this game was, people actually gave it a chance. I created a game, I put it out there and it was given a chance to just be a thing in the world of video games. Or I guess I should say the indie game scene and for that I am so grateful. The game got a lot of love from many fans while at the same time received a ton of hate from just as many people. And I am grateful for that. I think it is every artist's dream not to have their work loved by everyone, but to have people notice their work, critique their work and so on. Potato Thriller was that project that did that for me.

Anyway, this is starting to become a messy blog post and just me rambling, but from the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of you out there who have supported me as a game developer, took interest in my work, sent me some feedback, gave me criticism and so on. I want to thank all the people who gave Potato Thriller a chance, all the players of Potato Thriller, all you YouTubers and Streamers who covered the game on your channels, game journalist who wrote reviews and articles, people who did fan art, the people who reached out to me with messages telling me how much they enjoyed the game and so on. I am truly grateful. You are all awesome and are the reason I stay motivated to continue creating games and other stuff. I appreciate each and every one of you.

To celebrate, Potato Thriller is currently 70% off on Steam as of this post. This sale is part of the Steam Summer sale which runs from June 22nd to July 5th. You can check out the Steam Page here if interested:

Happy Birthday Potato Man!

I can't believe that it has been a full year since I released this game. Time really does fly by. It's funny because looking back at Potato Thriller a year later, I am starting to see the many flaws the game has and why many people hated it. I see some bits of the game and face palm at my own work and say to myself "I can't believe I did that" or "why did I think it would be a good idea to put this in the game?" Again, it wasn't the perfect game. I understand how it came across as amateurish and low quality to some people. I'm not disagreeing with anyone. However, it is still something I am proud of. It shows me as a developer from a certain point in time. I really did put in a lot of work and effort into the game and made it the best I could possibly with the skill set level I had.

With that said, I am truly passionate about creating games. It is something that I love doing and want to keep doing. I really do care about delivering unique memorable gaming experiences and I am constantly working hard to improve. Over the year I feel like I have really matured a lot as a game developer and really am starting to take creating games more seriously. That doesn't mean I won't make my games silly and stupid anymore, they can still be silly and stupid, but at the same time need to have a certain level of quality to them.

Looking to the future!
It has been a full year since Potato Thriller has been out on Steam and it has also been a full year of silence. I haven't published anything new at all after Potato Thriller. However, this doesn't mean I haven't been working on anything. I have been developing a couple of different projects actually and I look forward to sharing them sometime in the future. Thanks for reading and more updates soon!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Samer Hills Progress?

     Huh? What have we here? A cowboy uniform and another uniform that looks very very familiar...

Also, a farm setting?

Sorry. Not a very informative or content filled post. This is more of just a nod to confirm that I am still working on a game project. But yeah, overall I would say that I am making good progress on the project. I will have more updates and posts with more information soon. Okay bye!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fake products in games + Making Of "Wood-Be-Gone" spray

     Coming across a fake product in a video game is a very common thing to happen to the player and placing such products in the game is a design practice that game developers/designers have been doing for ages now. This practice of course is also done in other formats of media outside gaming such as films, tv shows, comics, paintings, etc. I personally believe that fake products typically stand out the most in games because usually the player gets a better chance to explore and find something on their own time where as in a film, the viewer might miss something placed in a frame or not catch it the first time they watch the movie.

But why? What is the point?
This is going to sound like basic design for beginners or something that is just common sense, but artist and designers are constantly looking for ways to make their game world or film, art project (what ever work they are doing) feel as believable as possible. What is one way they can achieve this? Simply ask themselves, "What kind of products would the player expect to find in this world?", "What kind of products do the characters use in their own world?' etc. Maybe you are working on a modern day city environment so people should expect to come across things like vending machines, billboard signs that advertise a new phone, etc. Or maybe you are working on a futuristic world that takes place in space. The player would expect to come across more futuristic and advanced products instead of your regular bag of chips and cigarette packs. The products along with every other art asset should be as consistent as possible in order to not break any immersion in the world that the viewer or player is experiencing. Of course this is just my own opinion and not a mandatory design rule. The world can still be immersive while at the same time feature out of place items/products, but it can be much harder to pull off.

Optional and mandatory products/items.
It really is not hard to come across such items in games and almost any game you play most likely does have it's own set of products placed throughout the world. The GTA series with it's line of food products and drinks is a good example. One I could think of off the top of my head is the Sprunk energy drink you can find. The Dead Rising series is another excellent example of a game that maybe has hundreds of fake products. Speaking of Dead Rising, this brings me into my next point. Some games feature fake products that are just there to make the world believable while other games create product brands that are absolutely mandatory to use in order to progress in game. A game that did a great job of doing this was again Dead Rising. Introduced in Dead Rising 2, the Zombrex was a key item to have. You might be thinking "so what? every game has key items the player must get" - That is true, but what made Zombrex so unique was how important the game made it seem. There were ads for it, branding and everyone in the game was aware of it and how important it was. You are in a world in which a zombie outbreak has happened, but a semi cure has been found to prevent you or loved ones from turning into zombies if bit and you could get this product in places like pharmacies, over the counter. Dead Rising 2 made it feel like an actual real product in the game world. While it was a mandatory item to have, the game never really forced you to go out and get it. It nagged you to get it, but you didn't have to listen if you didn't want to. However, it made the player very aware of how important it is to have and naturally, the player would keep track of time and go out to try and find this product just to have it on hand. Like in real life, if you go grocery shopping you always make sure to grab that one really important necessary thing, like toilet paper for example. It added a bit more immersion to the whole experience and just made the world you are exploring feel more believable.

Every detail counts.
This is kind of more related to the paragraph before I talked about optional and mandatory products in games. Sorry to keep jumping back and forth between subjects. But, going back to talking about design and making the world as believable as possible. To many, placement of fake products is just a minor detail that is often just looked past. Often, the player won't even really care if they come across something like this. And it really isn't that big of a deal. I'm not even sure if this post was worthy of having it's own large article written out. But I am running out of ideas for my blog. Anyway, I personally love coming across small details like this in games. I like taking the time to just look around the world a bit and see what products it has to offer and compare them to real world items even. (I know, I am a huge loser) But as an artist you want to try and pay attention to these small details, learn from them and see how you can incorporate them into your own works and make them more believable. The fact that the designers and developers took the time to create a their own line of products and fake brands just for the sake of their creation to make the game world (or movie) feel as immersive as possible shows how dedicated and passionate they are about their craft and is something that I personally do appreciate seeing.

Anyway, this was just my own little theory and views on the idea of fake products in games. I'm sure not everyone agrees or feels the same, but I think it is an interesting subject to talk about relating to game design. I tried to word this as best as I could, but the post was kind of all over the place. Apologies if I didn't really make much sense in today's article. With that said, I also have a new "Making Of" that I would like to share. I decided to design my own fake product for one of my upcoming games that I am currently developing. Below is where I discuss the process and share the workflow of how I created "Wood-Be-Gone Bug Spray" - An original fake product by ME!

     Product design is something that I never really payed much attention to until one day I visited a local Chinese store in my area. It was my first time there and there were a lot of products I have never seen or heard of before in my life. For some reason almost everything stood out to me and was very eye catching because of how well the packaging was designed. Bright, colorful and full of character I suddenly became interested in all of it. I would stop, look at something and say "the packaging on these items is done so well!" and then it dawned on me how important product design actually is. Having nice packaging, branding, and eye catching designs are just as important as the actual product itself.

Anyway, that was just a little short story of what got me interested in product design. Let's get into this fake bug spray I made.

"Wood-Be-Gone!" is a fake bug spray I created for my upcoming game. This is a common item that the player will come across. It is also a usable item that could be picked up and used against enemies. I don't want to get into too much detail right now, but quick summery: there has been an outbreak of these new type of insects in the game that carry a deadly (fictional) disease that has gone viral in the games world. The spray is used to instantly these bugs. The bugs typically travel in packs and the spray acts as a quick solution to neutralize any threat they impose. This is an item that will aid the player through their journey. As for the name "Wood-Be-Gone", it will be explained in the game why it is named that.

Break Down:
First I started out with the modeling. This was a very simple and quick process. Since I was modeling a spray can, I started out with just a basic cylinder shape and then modeled in things like the metal rims, the spray cap, etc. The whole model is just a circular cylinder. Nothing fancy and nothing over complicated. After modeling, I quickly layed down some base colors (which change by the end of this) and marked my seems to prepare for unwrapping.

Texturing the model:
This was probably the most time consuming part of the process because I wanted to make it look like an actual real life product. I began by adjusting my UV map, baking base colors and exporting my diffuse and uv map out. I brought those maps into GIMP and experimented with various concepts and designs until I finally created a texture I was happy with.
uv map layout

initial design I created.

I would constantly switch between blender and gimp to see what my texture looked like on the 3d model.

texture test

The Logo Design:
Everything on the texture map is made from scratch bit by bit. I didn't want to just go get some stock clipart or texture images and create the design out of that. Again, I was aiming to create a believable looking product that would make sense in my game world. The game has these very unique bug models that I created a while ago and I wanted the bug spray can to be advertised in the game as something that fights against those specific insects. So I took the actual bug model, which is this:
bug from my game.

And I created black 2D silhouettes out of the 3D model as icons and branding logos for the bug spray.

"Wood-Be-Gone" logo/branding

Text Logo:
For the text logo, I decided to give it a wooden texture. Kind of a burnt wood kind of appearance instead of just a basic boring black and white text logo.

Text Logo made of REAL WOOD!

More Texturing and finishing touches:
I eventually decided that yellow wasn't a good color to represent the bug spray can and instead created a nice gradient purple to serve as the can's main color.

That's better!

More details and touchups:

Even better!

Final touch:

Now it's PERFECT!

With a ton of other Blender props I made:

Inside The Unity Engine:
Once I finished, just like any other model I made, I exported my new bug spray product to the Unity engine. It will be used as an in game item after all. Down the road I will program this item to actually have functionality and fight against enemy bugs. In the meantime, here is what it will look like in game:

Taking it a step further with Cycles:
Even though the actual game asset was done at this point, part of me still wanted to create a semi photo-real rendering of the product to see if I can fool anyone into thinking that it actually is a real product. So I went back in Blender, switched over to the Cycles render engine and setup a scene, lighting, skybox, etc to create a good looking high res billboard ad for the product.

Scene setup and previews

Test renders and tweaking until it was right.

Final Render:

Does this look like a real product to you?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Steam Direct, The Fee & Thoughts.

     It's funny because just yesterday in my latest post I mentioned Steam Direct and how the fee was still a mystery. Today, it is no longer a mystery and if you haven't already heard the news from Steam's blog or any other gaming news website already, then you probably are not a game developer who want's to publish a game to Steam. Or you just don't care.

     Anyway, today Valve officially announced that the Steam Direct fee will only be $100 per game. Also, this $100 fee is recoupable according to Valve.
Steam Blog: Link

     After weeks of indie developers stressing out and being on edge about the Direct price point and waiting for the news to come out, everyone can finally relax.

     At first, I was really surprised to see Valve's decision. Personally, I was expecting the fee to be between $300 and $500 myself actually. However, Valve decided to set the fee at the lowest price point possible so that smaller indies (me being a small indie as well) wouldn't get barred out and that is pretty awesome of them. I am really happy with this price point and I am sure many other indie developers are as well. This is a very fair and more than reasonable price to pay to have your game on the largest PC gaming store front in the world. I believe that this small fee gives every indie game developer the opportunity to shine and possibly become a success on Steam. Also, it just makes everything so much more simpler for everyone. No more running Greenlight campaigns, getting votes and waiting months to see if the game passes. Developers simply pay the fee, fill out some paper work (I think there will be paperwork), set up the game page and release on Steam.

     Of course at the same time this low price point might worry some people because now the Steam platform is available to publish on to anyone with $100. It brings up the argument that the platform could possibly become over flooded with low quality games, joke games, asset flips, etc. The argument that shady developers might abuse this new system and exploit it to set up cash farms just like they did with Greenlight. Developers worry that their games will just become buried under the hundreds of other games submitted making it hard to become visible to potential customers. And gamers worry that they will become overwhelmed with loads of games flooding the storefront pages making it more difficult to browse for games that they would be interested in.

     With a low price point of just $100 it is possible for any of these points that I brought up to happen however, no one knows for sure yet. With that said, the people over at Valve have also taken these potential possibilities into consideration. I have been keeping up with Valve's more recent blog post and it truly does sound like they are working hard to avoid any possible exploitation of the new system. Valve has already made changes to the trading card system, navigating the site, what content is recommended to which users depending on their interest and making changes to the sites algorithms to just make the entire platform the best it can be. Valve really does care about giving the end user an enjoyable store browsing experience and giving the developer the best platform to work on and it shows that they are working hard to constantly improve the site. And this is why in my opinion they are the best. Why they are the number one storefront in the world. With all that said, nothing is perfect and I am sure there will always be users complaining about something and users giving praise.

    Only time will tell how the Steam Direct system will perform so we just have to wait and see.
As for me, I will definitely be using Steam Direct to publish my upcoming future games. I am excited about it and am really looking forward to seeing the changes Valve continues to make. What are your thoughts about all of this? Tweet at me @snowconesolid

See you all on Direct!

Update: 6/6/2017

Steam Greenlight official retired. Steam Direct confirmed for June 13th, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The status of "Samer Hills"

Hey Samer, whatever happened to that one game project you were working on? You know, the one you posted to Steam GreenLight over here? Hmmm... I believe it was called Samer Hills? Yeah, this one

That is a good question Samer (just play along with me). Let me tell you what is going on because I believe I haven't been really been clear about it's progress and to be honest, I have been a bit confusing because I tend to say something different each time. I recently posted this update over at the game's Steam Greenlight page (yes, as of this post Steam Greenlight is still up and is still a thing. I posted links to my game's Greenlight page exactly 5 times already in this post......) 

Anyway! as I was saying, I recently posted this update on the Steam Greenlight page because I felt it was important to keep the page... well, updated with news relating to the project. However, with Valve's upcoming Steam Direct system, Steam Greenlight can be taken down any day now and who knows if anyone will ever be able to visit those dead Greenlight game pages anymore. 

With that said, I think it is a good idea to simply re-post the update over here on my blog for future reference. Now, I will shamelessly copy paste and quote myself:

Status of the project:
"Just a quick and possibly final update I post here on this game's Greenlight page. Since I have been going back and forth between saying that the game is "temporarily shelved" and the "game is still in development."

So that there isn't any confusion, I want to clarify the current status of this project and my plans. I don't want to sound like I am repeating what I have said in previous announcements, but here is what's going on.

-The game is NOT canceled.

-The game is still set to release/finish development this year (2017)

-I am reworking the game to be something more than what I originally had planned. I have a completely different vision for what I want this game to be and I want to implement all of my ideas into it and tweak it until I feel it is the game I want to put out there. This will be a bigger game with more than originally planned. I want to create an immersive world with multiple characters and multiple story-lines occurring.

-I am planning on changing the game's name to something entirely different. It will no longer be called "Samer Hills". Therefore if the game gets greenlit on here in time before Direct comes out, this game will launch under a different name.

-If greenlight is eventually taken down and replaced with Direct and this game has not passed it's greenlight campaign then that is okay. I will finish the game and look into my options for releasing it. As of this update there still is no exact information on how Direct will work or how much the fee will be. So I can't promise a direct release at this time. But again, I will look into my options for publishing and see if I can work with Direct.

Anyway, thank you everyone once again for the support and interest in this project. Admittedly this greenlight page isn't really getting much views or visits. However, for those few followers I feel it is important that I continue to share updates and the status on the project here on the greenlight page. At least while it is still up.

Thanks everyone once again. I appreciate all of you!

-Samer Khatib (snowconesolid)"

Originally posted on "Samer Hills" Steam Greenlight page here:
On 6/1/2017. Original Page may be removed in future.

Anyway, that's all I wanted to share today. Also, I finally setup an indiedb page for Samer Hills. You can find it here:

More updates soon. 
Thanks for reading.