IndieCade recap plus GamerCamp in Toronto this weekend!

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We’re back from IndieCade - what a fantastic festival! Four days surrounded by the most wonderful community of developers, players, and enthusiasts. Downtown Culver City was taken over by gamers of all sorts and the sheer love of games and community was front and centre the entire time. It was exhausting and invigorating at the same time.

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We were set up in the Fire Station One, which appears to be an actual functioning fire station. They just moved the trucks out back and filled it with indie games (priorities!). It was open to the public Saturday and Sunday, and it was great to have a big crowd of people filtering through all weekend. We spoke to media, we met new fans, we made new friends, and of course we exploded a lot of people. Everyone seemed to have a great time!

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We’ve also seen some neat coverage come out of this, including an interview with KO Gaming News, a rundown of the best games at IndieCade from Press Play TV, and an article on Famitsu. We can’t read Japanese, and the Google translation is hilarious, but it’s definitely neat to see this sort of thing pop up.

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To that end, we actually won the Media Choice Award, as voted on by the media who attended IndieCade 2014. Thanks everyone! It’s super humbling and we’re very proud to have won an award before the game is even released!

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The work doesn’t stop here for us though. If you’re in the Toronto, Canada area we’d love to see you at Gamercamp this weekend: October 18th-19th. We’ll be demoing the game all day (and even into the night on Saturday!), talking with players and enjoying everything the gaming community has to offer. Hope to see you there!

- Ben

IndieCade Finalist! Play the game at IndieCade this weekend in Culver City, CA!

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Did you hear the news? “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” was selected as a Finalist at this year’s IndieCade!

IndieCade, the International Festival of Independent Games, is four days of talks, networking, social events, gaming, and all sorts of great activities. It takes place in Culver City, CA later this week through the weekend: October 10 - 12, 2014.

As one of the selected finalists, you’ll be able to find us in Fire Station One throughout the weekend. The best part? All the award contenders can be played in the Firehouse which is open and free to the public throughout the weekend, Saturday October 11th 10am - 7pm and Sunday October 12th 10am - 5pm”.

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Now there’s also lots of other activities going on, including talks, workshops, and the Night Games event. For that stuff, you’ll want to hit up Registration and get a ticket (or register on-site).

We’ve got some packing to do. See you in Culver City this weekend!

Post-PAX MEGABOOTH Mega PAX Post

PAX Prime 2014 marked the first time our team has ever shown a game at PAX. Four days, 32 hours of public demos, plus a whole lot of networking. Nevermind the travel, setup time, and two days of PAX Dev prior. It was a heck of trip and we’re only just know getting back on our feet.

Going into PAX, we had a build that had been heavily tested thanks to our exhibition at GenCon just two weeks earlier. The game was solid, our promo materials were printed, flights were booked. Everything was looking great! Except we didn’t really know what to expect as far as our expo space was concerned. We had manage to get a coveted spot in the Indie MEGABOOTH, but we were part of the tabletop section. It’s a more communal area where a bunch of tabletop games share an area about the size of four normal booths. Our game is a bit bizarre and can sometimes take up a lot of space, so we were really anxious that things would be too cramped. On top of that, our attempts to send out cold emails to press to drum up appointments went largely unanswered. In short, we were trying to keep our expectations low for the show.

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When we got to our space, we were able to quickly find a setup that worked for both us and our lovely tabletop neighbours (by the way - check out Grow and Slap .45!). It turns out that the tabletop section was actually smack right in the middle of the MEGABOOTH itself, so there’s no way we would be hurting for foot traffic. Things were looking good!

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Then PAX opened. If you’re never been on the expo floor at PAX, it will be difficult to describe just how crowded and loud it is. Just wandering the floor is draining. Seeing the crowd filling in at 10am was both exciting and nerve-wracking.

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Early that opening morning, Giant Bomb came by to play. Jeff, Patrick, and Alex were able to save Dan on the starter bomb. Then, fuelled by their success and overconfidence, they stepped up to “normal” mode. Patrick the defuser was not so lucky. They even talked about the game later that night on their after-show.

Later on, the Game Grumps stopped by (incognito! Sneaky Grumps) to try their hand at defusing bomb. This was the result: #bestgameatpax. And they too had great things to say about it on their panel later that evening.

We were pretty busy that first day. At no point were we waiting for players, but looking back it was definitely the calm before the storm. By day two, word about the game had spread and players were showing up saying they had heard about the game from their friends or from a panel they went to. We didn’t have much room for a line but eventually Enforcers (who should probably be called “Lifesavers”) were managing and capping our line for us.

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Some players lined up multiple times, across multiple days. Having attending a few PAXes in the past, we realize how precious a resource time is, so this really meant a lot to us. Everyone was incredibly friendly and we had some fun conversations with gamers in line about all sorts of games that just made the whole thing fly by.

Chris Kohler from Wired came by to play and had some great things to say about his “clear PAX 2014 Game of the Show”. Indiegames.com had a similar experience. Indie Game Insider recorded their playthrough and even wrote up a play-by-play transcript of their 5-seconds-to-spare defusal. Polygon played, IGN played, ID@Xbox played (and @iocat saved them all), FanGamer played, Electric Playground played (and shot some video that we haven’t been able to find online yet). Tested played, talked about it, and wrote about it. We couldn’t even keep track of all the coverage. The response was simply phenomenal. It was almost overwhelming.

How We Ran The Demo


While this was our first PAX as exhibitors, we had some ideas for how to best make use of our time with players. Our game can really only be experienced in five minute chunks as players need to commit to playing a full round for the game to work. This meant we had a clear format to each “session” with a group of players. We got players to fill out a card as we explained the manual and the headset. The card included the names of the defuser and the experts who were trying to save him/her. It also included a place to mark off the settings the round was played at, including the difficulty and how much time they had. On the right was a space to scribble down notes about the wires and symbols being described to them. After the round had ended one way or another, the players earned a big “DEFUSED” or “EXPLODED” stamp for their postcard, which they kept as a souvenir of their experience. The postcard of course included all of the relevant Twitter and website information for our game.

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(Photo by @janakinsman)

Our goal was to have the postcard act as a bit of a momento for players. It was practical, because the space for notes prevent (most) players from writing on the manual. It was useful, because it included our vital information for social media links and how to contact us. But above all, it gave players a way to talk about the game with their friends. We would see groups gather after a round, pointing excitedly at the notes they had made, trying to reconcile their asymmetric experiences, and reliving the game.

By the fourth day, the stamps themselves had become a huge hit.

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(Photo by @Burning_Luke)

All in all, we could not have asked for a better PAX. We met some fantastic people and I think we really made some great fans too. The sheer enthusiasm and love of gaming we saw throughout the weekend was renergizing, even as the demands of exhibiting wore on us. We are exhausted but somehow refreshed.

A huge thanks needs to be given to everyone at the Indie MEGABOOTH: all of the organizers, all of our fellow exhibitors, all of the sponsors (thanks Cards Against Humanity!), and all of the tireless Enforcers. Thanks to the attendees who stopped by, and thanks to everyone who gave us feedback and helped us spread the word about the game.

As always, you can keep up with us best on Twitter @KeepTalkingGame (or Facebook or our mailing list. Or all three!)

Until next time!
- Ben


ps: we stole your sign!
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Dev Kit 2 Impressions and In-Lens Video

We received our Oculus Rift DK2s on Tuesday and so I thought I would do a post with some first impressions and also make a short video of what our game currently looks like through the lens and taking advantage of positional tracking for all movement. Note a lot of this is just placeholder art until we have our actual art complete and that it also looks a lot better in the rift, most of the artifacts are due to the camera going out of focus rather than a problem with the DK2 itself.

I’ve had the original dev kit since last April and have tried practically every demo I could get my hands on and I’ve also been working for the last several months with it on Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes so I’ve spent quite a lot of time in the DK1.

When people discuss the specs and the pros and cons of the DK2 versus the DK1 it tends to sound like it is a small incremental update, but for me it’s been a night and day difference. The resolution increase, low persistence and positional tracking push the experience far beyond what was possible with the old device.

Resolution & Screen Door

The bump from 1280×800 to 1920×1080 may not sound all like all that much, and a lot of discussion of the change to a pentile OLED makes it sound even less significant, but I’ve definitely found in practice it makes a big difference in being able to make out things like text and smaller details. This is very important to Keep Talking as we no longer need to position the bomb at uncomfortably close distances to enable people to see it well.

The screen door is still noticeable, but feels much less intrusive. It also has a different shape due to the pentile display that I’ve found a bit less distracting.

Low Persistence

I think my expectation was that some motion blur would still exist, but I really haven’t been able to notice any and this change might have made more of a difference for me than the resolution change. Eliminating that blur not only makes looking around the environment more comfortable, it also makes it much easier to make out finer details.

Positional Tracking

Lack of positional tracking has always been one of the caveats I have to tell people when demoing the DK1, otherwise people would move laterally and feel strange though they usually wouldn’t quite figure out why.

I tried a few demos of positional tracking using the razer hydra and I guess I figured the IR camera based solution would feel like that but improved slightly. The difference in precision and latency makes it a completely different experience. The positional tracking feels pretty much perfect and instantaneous, though you do have to place the camera pretty far from you to have much of a capture area to move around in.

In the desk demo scene that they created for testing positional tracking it really adds to the depth of close smaller objects, while in larger scenes like Tuscany the tracking tends to feel far more subtle, but definitely gives access to new depth cues like parallax that make scale feel more apparent and the world feel much more real.

This new better sense of scale made the problems with the models in our game far more apparent, we already knew that the table, chair and door weren’t sized properly, but in the DK1 this wasn’t really all that obvious. In the DK2 it is actually fairly distracting.

SDK

The only real problem I’ve had with the DK2 so far is that the SDK is still in a very early stage. Not that this isn’t the kind of thing to be expected with development kits and I’m definitely happier having it early than waiting longer for it to be perfected. It has been more problematic for Allen and Ben who have had some software compatibility problems which have limited their ability to use their kits.

Direct to rift mode in Unity doesn’t seem to work well currently, introducing noticeable judder, extended mode does work, but still feels a bit off.

Final Thoughts

The DK2 is a very big step up from the DK1. It still needs a bit more polish but it definitely feels far closer to being ready for consumers than its predecessor. I still wouldn’t advise people who aren’t developers to pick one up yet but if this pace of improvement continues I think the consumer version is going to be amazing.

- Brian

Real Art and New Dev Kits!

Do you see a red wire?

Uhhh, I see a weird tube thing. It could be a wire I guess.

Up until now, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes has featured what can only generously be called programmer “art”. It gets the job done but it’s rather ugly. Sometimes it even gets in the way of gameplay. Unacceptable!

Well no more! We’re very pleased to have Chris Taylor joining the project to provide the visual fidelity that Keep Talking deserves. Here’s a peek at some of the concepts created in just the past few days:

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Better yet, here’s what it looks like in game (with programmer art components still attached):

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There’s a lot of programmer art still to be replaced so Chris definitely has his work cut out for him! We’re thrilled with the massive improvement already though.

New Dev Kit 2s en route!

Of course, what good are pretty models and textures without a good way of viewing them? Fortunately, our Oculus Rift Dev Kit 2's have started shipping and should make their way to us early next week. This will allows us to add positional head tracking to the game as well as the all important increases to resolution. Getting a good read on the various components of the bomb is a big deal in our game and soon we won't have to have comically oversized serial numbers and labels!

And yes, that means we’ll be bringing our DK2s with us to GenCon in… three weeks! Eep! Back to work!

Interested in keeping up with the latest Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes news? Follow us here, on Twitter @KeepTalkingGame, or sign up for our mailing list!

- Ben

Keep Talking at Gen Con 2014!

Are you going to Gen Con this year? Because we are and we’d love to see you there!

That’s right, “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” will be running events throughout all four days of Gen Con 2014, August 14th - 17th. This is your chance to try defusing bombs in virtual reality with the help of your friends. Experience the Oculus Rift! Talk to the developers (that’s us!). Play the game before it’s available anywhere!

Massive thanks to Derek and Gen Con for helping make this possible! See you in Indianapolis!

- Ben

Cranking it up to 11

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Last night at the Dirty Rectangles in Ottawa a few lucky (or unlucky) people got to give a shot at disarming a bomb in the new alpha version of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. There were explosions. There was screaming and yelling. There was fun.

This new version of the game includes a twenty-two page manual with eight new puzzles that add complexity and longevity to the game. You’ll now find up to five components on the front of the bomb and six on the back: The difficulty can now be cranked up to eleven.

The new components include a maze, a rhythm game, a morse code puzzle, password cracking, more complicated wire combinations, and, of course, venting radioactive gas.

More coming soon… See you next week!

OIGC

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes was at the Ottawa International Game Conference this week. We had a booth set up where lots of people got to try to defuse a bomb, some successfully, others not so much.

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Feedback

There are certain things about a game like Keep Talking that you can only find out from testing with new players, and OIGC provided plenty of fresh eyes. 

We got some great comments and suggestions such as:

"More components!"

"Make different shaped bombs"

"Put the player in a torture device"

"It is really great! Also if Allen needs a ride home later tell him to call me." - Allen’s Dad

The Next Generation

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When we set out to design the game we were really building the kind of game that we would enjoy, we never really sat down and wondered whether it would appeal to the next generation of gamers.

OIGC had a few groups of young gamers (aged 8-12) come through and they were really excited to try our game. After the first round where they didn’t really do very well I assumed they hadn’t really liked it. Instead they kept coming back, trying their hardest to work out how best to communicate and solve the bomb and by the end were getting to be pretty good at it. It was a great feeling to have them come up later and tell me that they really wanted to get rifts and our game when they came out.

Talks

With the constant activity of our booth, the two days of the conference went by really quickly. I was so busy I barely got the chance to go to any of the talks. I did make time for Ben’s talk “But I Just Want To Make Games” where he talked about all of the important non-development roles that you need to take on when you’re an indie game developer.

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I also managed to make it to my own talk “Virtual Reality - What It Can Mean For You”. I discussed the past, present and near future of VR as well as how to develop for it. There was a great turnout and some really good questions. It’s great to see the growing interest in developing for Virtual Reality.

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Thanks again to everyone who came by and tried our game and special thanks to the great organizers and volunteers at OIGC for making this all possible, you guys were awesome!

Until next time!

- Brian

Snazzy New Trailer

Hello bomb defusers! Take a gander at the new trailer I cut together from a playtest we held recently:

The playtest was a hit and we hope the video captures some of the spirit of the game in an easy-to-digest format. And the reason we needed a new trailer is because…

It’s Festival Season!

That’s right, it’s the time of year where all the indie game developers rush over to http://www.promoterapp.com/calendar and start entering all the festivals and competitions they can. We’ve entered Keep Talking into a few so far and we’ve got our eyes on a few more. Naturally we’ll wait to see if we actually make it into any of these before saying anything more - don’t want to jinx it!

OIGC is Next Week!

The Ottawa International Game Conference kicks off in less than a week and we’re going to be there. We’ll have a demo pod set up for people to stop by and give the game a whirl. Look for the sign or just follow the yelling and swearing.

But that’s not all! Two members of the Keep Talking team will also be giving talks at the conference. I will be giving a talk called “But I Just Want To Make Games!”, aimed at new or aspiring indie developers who might not know about all of the different hats they’ll have to wear as entrepreneurs-who-happen-to-make-games.

Brian will be delivering a talk called “Virtual Reality: What It Can Mean For You”, covering all sorts of history, lessons learned, and a look to the future for VR and how indies can get in on the action.

It’s not too late to grab a ticket either!

See you next week! Keep Talking!
- Ben

Defining a Visual Style

Defining a visual style is HARD.

Rendering style is a key part of the visual style in a 3D game — and defining it is also HARD.

…But I love graphics programming, so that’s not going to hold me back from trying some cool things out. This post shows some of the rendering experiments that have been happening behind the scenes for Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

Silly. Tense. Social.

Our game can become pretty ridiculous at times. But someone’s life is on the line and they need help from their friends. This juxtaposition between silliness and tension in a social environment is a core foundation of our experimental party game — And we need a rendering style that helps set the tone and puts the players into the right state of mind.

Looking for Inspiration

We’re not alone in trying to create a silly tone, so we looked to existing media for inspiration. Illustrative and cartoon-like rendering seemed attractive…

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Outlines and Stereovision

At first, imagining yourself in a virtual cartoon, like Archer shown above, sounds like a neat idea, but designing a game for virtual reality comes with its own requirements on rendering style beyond that of just performance. Each eye is rendered as a different view (or camera), which means that view-based lighting components, like cartoon outlines, can render a very different result for each eye.

Here’s an example of when dark rim outlines, like those you may see in a dark comic book style, can give large variances between each eye. Note that the distance between the shadow edge and the HP logo on the printer is much greater in the right eye. When you see this effect in the Oculus Rift, it’s similar to holding a hand up in front of one of your eyes, except much worse. In this case your brain can’t understand the image at all because both objects have the same focal distance. It feels weird. ;)

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For now, we’re going to shelf the dark outlines and rim shadows and focus on more natural lighting techniques that will work better with virtual reality.

Soft vs. Hard/Wet Surfaces

Shininess is a key component in natural lighting techniques, but we want a shine that fits with the silly and slightly surreal tone of our game.

One of the most common ways to give an object shininess while maintaining high performance for real time rendering in a video game is to use the Blinn-Phong shading model. This is a reasonable approach to give objects more depth, but only works well for hard or wet surfaces which directly reflect light.

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Having these hard, shiny surfaces throughout the game doesn’t help support the tone that we’re going for, so we looked to rim lighting with a half-lambert to help us render a softer looking surface:

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Rim lighting has become very popular, and with good reason: it helps clearly define shapes and has some very natural and realistic properties when used correctly. But when applied to the surface of an entire object, it can result in visuals that feel a little too soft and playful. This works great for Mario Galaxy, but doesn’t fit well with Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes.

To address this issue, the solution is simple: Remove the rim lighting on the sides where the light doesn’t reach. In technical terms, we are applying the rim lighting for each light, but multiplied by the diffuse value of that light. This turns the rim lighting into a smooth and natural sheen, like what you would expect on a soft, dull plastic.

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Blending between a Blinn-Phong and per-light rim lighting can also give a nice effect for surfaces which are somewhere between hard/reflective and soft/dull. The idea of blending between the two is very similar to the technique used in Team Fortress 2.

These are our thoughts so far, but there is much more to come for visual style in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes…

Keep Talkin’
-Allen