I'm apparently a glutton for punishment, because I decided today, about a month before the show, to take Nectar Vector to PAX West. I'm just going to be showing it informally, so relative to a full booth presence, I don't have much to do. But oh my god, I still have so much to do! For the next few weeks, I'll be heads down getting materials together and working on the game as much as I can before the show. If you're going to be at PAX and want to play the game, come find me! Easiest way to do that is to get at me on twitter (or on my personal twitter). Or, if you're press, here's a press kit.
As a warm up for PAX, I'm also going to be bringing Nectar Vector to the first Playcrafting event in San Francisco: Summer Play, which takes place on Wednesday August 23. You can get more info here. If you're local to SF, come hang out!
In preparation for heading to PAX (and because I've started submitting to some shows), I put together a little video that has some gameplay footage from the game as it stands today. It's still using prototype art and sound (which means that the aesthetic direction for some of what you'll see doesn't quite match my vision). That said, hopefully it still gives you a sense of what it's like to play Nectar Vector (note: I only had time to capture 1v1 footage for now). Check it out.
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For the entire lifetime of Nectar Vector, I was pretty thoroughly convinced that the game only really worked as a 2v2 game. I had been planning on technically supporting head-to-head matches, but not recommending it as a play experience. My thought (and, until recently, experience) was that without a teammate to cover you, the game typically devolves into a sort of tit-for-tat style pattern of "you score some flowers and while you're doing that, I'll grab some flowers for myself and fly them back to my flower as you're coming back into the center of the arena".
Well, egg on my face! I made some tuning changes (namely, increasing the freeze shot speed and making it so the burst power also dislodged flowers from other players' chains) and started playing more 1v1 matches (both because I wanted to find a way to make it work and because I can't always find 3 other people to help me playtest). And it's totally rad! It works, it's fun. It's a very different game, but I like it and will absolutely be fully supporting it. I have some ideas for map layouts that will be more interesting for 2 players, especially now that laid the foundation for doing real level design by adding support for arbitrary-size goal areas (home flowers) and obstacles (uh... obstacles). It'll take some further testing to hone in on what the best levels for 2 players are, but I'm really excited: viable support for 1v1 matches will make it a way easier for people to play. That's great!
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I changed the name of the game! It's now called Nectar Vector!
I've known for a while that the game needed a name change. Nearly every time I showed the game to someone, they would refer to it as "Flower Power" (note the missing 's' at the end). This seemingly small error meant that if they went home and tried to search for it, they would be up shit creek--all they would get back is pages about the actual Flower Power movement (and, if they added "game" to the end of their query, they'd find a bunch of games that weren't mine). I brainstormed stuff for a while, periodically pestering friends and family to weigh in on my latest idea. At the end of it, I considered something closer to 30 names, but that's not a dumb Mad Max joke (turns out naming stuff is really hard). I tried stuff that made puns on flowers/bees/honey, stuff that riffed on famous Beatles songs, stuff that felt like it could be a psych rock song title. None of them stuck, none of them felt quite right. And then, one night I was reading an article about pollination and the words "nectar" and "vector" both made an appearance. And I was like, "Hey! Those words rhyme!" And, in fact, rhyming and alliteration are common patterns in psych rock song titles, so it sort of satisfied that desire. I was feeling really good about it--feeling like I maybe, just maybe, had finally found the new name for the game in "Nectar Vector". I asked tons of people and didn't get any negative reactions (and lots of positive ones).
After a week or so of shopping it around and getting impressions, I knew this was it. The new name was Nectar Vector. So, I bought nectarvector.com and wrote this post.
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I'm thrilled to announce that, as of yesterday, Gordon McGladdery of A Shell in the Pit will be working on Flower Powers, doing all the sound and music. If you play indie games, chances are you've heard his work--he's worked on tons of projects, including Rogue Legacy, Night in the Woods, and Duelyst (you can check out the full list on his site). I'm really excited to be working with Gordon and can't wait to start implementing some awesome psychedelic sound and music from him! Still working out who will be doing the art for the game, but hopefully I'll have something to announce on that soon.
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If you missed Part 1 of this small tale, check it out here.
When we reconvened on the morning of the final day of the jam, we had the "flower powers" abilities implemented and we spent a bit of time playtesting to see how the game felt with those changes. And we were really happy with the new abilities! Like, the game was a surprising amount of fun. And we had time left in the jam!
Having time left in a game jam and being feature-complete is a rare luxury. In classic form, we immediately started having conversations about features we could creep into the game in the time we had left. Among other things, we considered making it so that certain flowers gave you certain powers (instead of all flowers working for all powers), but decided that would be horrible and not fun (because the mental load of tracking which color flower was where in your chain is way too much to think about, on top of the fast, competitive gameplay). Ultimately (fortunately), we decided that instead of complicating the game we were already having fun playing, we should just focus on polishing it, which, again, is something you basically never get to do in a game jam. So we added glows and particles and spinning things! I genuinely think that extra bit of polish really helped people's impression when we showed the prototype to the rest of the studio at the end of the jam (okay, actually, I know that because people commented on it). It was clear to me basically immediately that this thing had legs and wouldn't require all that much work to get to a shippable state.
Four years later, I got off my ass and talked to my old boss, Jamie Cheng, about buying the rights to the game (with permission from Kevin and Gordon, naturally). He generously agreed to sell me the game for $1 USD, and here we are, making this thing for real.
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With only three days to work with, game jams tend to be pretty hectic endeavors. Fortunately, Kevin had already done a lot of heavy lifting by building an entity-component-system on top of the 2D free and open-source Lua engine love2d (which is wonderful, and thematically appropriate for Flower Powers). The system that Kevin had built strongly resembled the one in place for Don't Starve (that game's gameplay is entirely built in Lua, on top of a C++ backend). After having worked on that game for about 5 months, it was super easy to drop right in and get to work. We made quick work of our core idea and had a functional version about halfway through the jam.
At this stage, at the end of day 2, the game was fun, but it was a little thin. We huddled and figured out a way to add another layer to the core risk/reward mechanic. The idea that we came up with was to allow players to sacrifice a flower (the scoring resource) that was in their chain in exchange for activating a "flower power": a few different abilities that add some depth beyond simple maneuvering. The powers we picked were: 1) a freeze shot (temporary disable if you hit a player with it), 2) a speed boost (faster movement that allows you to catch/evade another player), and 3) a burst (an short-range physics push that bumps players around). With that decided, we headed home to continue working. I'll save the tale of the final day for my next post. Until then!
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Now that I'm getting back to work on the game, I figured I'd take a moment to write up a quick history of the origins of the game. Every year, Klei Entertainment hosts an internal game jam where everyone at the company stops what they're doing for 3 days and makes something. The goal of the game jam is to experiment and test ideas, and sometimes the prototypes even turn into full fledged projects (Don't Starve was originally a game jam game). I worked at Klei for 2 years and in 2013, for my first game jam with the company, I teamed up with Kevin Forbes (a programmer and creator of Don't Starve, and now Griftlands) and Gordon Moran (an artist, now working on the Kickstarter game For The King). We met the day before the jam to discuss what we were going to make. From the outset, we knew that we wanted to make a local multiplayer game, and that we wanted to make something sans violence.
After an hour or so of brainstorming, we had settled on a core mechanic of resource-collection that focused on risk/reward. There are two aspects of the mechanic that made the whole thing "work". First, each subsequent resource that a player scored (by bringing it to a goal area) in a short period of time would be worth more points than the last. Second, to make these big scores to be risky, we made it so that the resources trailed behind you and were steal-able by other players. With that decided, all we needed before we could get started was to settle on a theme and aesthetic. Initially, we talked about controlling boats picking up crates and bringing them to ports. While that narrative is easy to understand (in terms of what you're doing as the player), it didn't really support the non-violent and happy spirit that we wanted for the game. So, instead, we arrived at something inspired by the Flower Power movement of the 1960s (which was also the namesake). After that, we just had to actually make the thing, which I'll save for a later post...
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It took a little longer than I'd hoped to get organized, but after filing all the paperwork to set up Short for a Knight, LLC a few weeks ago, I got the articles of organization back from the state today! That means that Short for a Knight is now a legal-ass LLC. It's an exciting step, but really it just means that I've got more to do now: set up a bank account, register for employer ID number, and probably some things that I don't know about yet! But I'm learning a lot about what it takes to start a company and all the pieces involved, and soon I'll be able to start hiring people (namely, an artist and a sound designer/composer) to help me build Flower Powers. While I'm still focused on getting the company propped up, actual development of the game is all but halted, but I'm excited to get back to it once I take care of all this stuff.
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This horse is much bigger than me. I'm just a small knight! It's so hard to climb on top of this horse, which is made of all the miscellaneous tasks of starting a company. But we're doing it, we're getting it started. We're going to ride into the sunset (I guess the sunset is where games are made?). Before long, we're going to be galloping along and we'll have more to share with you about Flower Powers.
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