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9:12 PM on 01.22.2009

Speed Run Contest

To: Solus Contingent
From: General Grier

Time is running out. Your mission to complete the Weapon of Choice Mountain Village Level AS FAST AS POSSIBLE will end on January 26th- this coming Monday!

Prove your valor, annihilating the boss on video. If you fail to accept these orders, the Chuul will dominate the world.

Click for more complete orders


Framed, original, signed Weapon of Choice Production Art PLUS 4,000 Microsoft Points

Personalized, black T-shirt with Second Place Winner’s Speed Run time and Weapon of Choice logo.

Artist/Developer signed Weapon of Choice Alien Annual Calendar 2009, featuring monthly vivid images and insane poetry of disgusting Weapon of Choice aliens.   read

8:30 PM on 12.05.2008

Peak worms, Popularity and Parties, Oh My!

The New Xbox Experience launched, and with it, Weapon of Choice. It has been very exciting to say the least. Every morning, I wake up, turn on the computer and check to see where we rank in regards to popularity. (They like us, they really, really like us!) And before we go to bed, we check the Microsoft Forums. (You too can leave your comments there.)

For those of you making out your holiday wish list for Santa or Bubbie, there is a new arrival at our store. If you dig WoC's art syle, tell your loved ones about the Weapon of Choice Alien Annual Wall Calendar. You get 12 months of the hideous space creatures you love to obliterate. And as an added bonus, the delirious Dr. Roth has included Latin classifications and poetry for each one. Based on forum feedback, we have talked with WoC's music composer, Hamdija Ajanovic about producing a WoC soundtrack.

Our Atlanta launch events were great! Friday night at Waba games resulted in a speed round, played on the 200 inch screen with the music cranked up! Computer Arena had a great set-up and a large crowd. It was great to have Blake Edwards, from Project Owlboy dev team, join us at both events. When I heard Bobby Blackwolf from AllGames Radio was disappointed he could not make it, I knew I had to contact him. Bobby interviewed Nathan on his 11/30 podcast. Check out the events' pictures.

To all the fans who downloaded and purchased the game,
...took a $5 chance to buy the game without downloading it first,
...told their friends (real and virtual) that the game was fun,
...send us an email about your positive WoC experience,
...interviewed us, posted on a forum, commented to a blog, or shouted to the sky...

This blog posted by Amy, Mommy's 2nd Best   read

9:46 PM on 11.20.2008

Meet the Developer Event in Atlanta

Mommy's Best Games invites Atlanta gamers and aspiring developers to join us!!

Friday, November 21st, we will be at Waba Games in Duluth, GA from 7-9 PM and
Saturday, November 22nd, we will be at the Computer Arena in Roswell, GA from 3-5 PM.

Attendees can:
* Meet the Weapon of Choice developers *
* Play the full version of Weapon of Choice for FREE *
* Check out other brand new Xbox 360 Community Games *
* Learn more about XNA and how to make games for Xbox Community Games *
* Take home free giveaways! (While they last)

There are admission fees into the console gaming centers. Admission is reduced by $5 at Waba during the event. These will be exciting and fun nights. Tell your Atlanta gaming friends to come join us.

Also joining us will be Blake Edwards from the Project Owlboy team.   read

2:22 PM on 11.10.2008

Contest Results, Press and the Home Stretch

Hello, Amy here. As the marketing and business side of Mommy’s Best Games, I decided to write this dev-log entry. Plus, as we shoot for the November 19th launch of Community Games, Nathan has his hands and head full of many other important tasks.

As you may have already learned, we entered Weapon of Choice into Microsoft’s XNA Dream Build Play 2008 international competition. We were very excited to learn that we earned THIRD PLACE!!!! We are the top American team. Check out the other winners; they all look great and are fun. It is definitely worth your time to check out.

We were also invited by Microsoft’s XNA Team to attend the Xbox LIVE Community Games and XNA Game Studio 3.0 Launch Event in San Francisco on October 29th. What an event! Also in attendance were the Word Soup and Colosseum teams. The room was set up with more than 15 high-def flat screen TVs with ready-to-play Dream Build Play and other XNA games. The press came, and we were ready. Although it was tough in one week to pull off schwag, we rocked it! We had digital press kits, flexible flyers with the WoC title screen imprinted on it, promotional game cards, game card magnets, and business cards.

Nathan and I were very excited to talk with journalists from Destructoid, Gamasutra, MTV Multiplayer, WIRED, Gamespot, and IGN. Heck- we even have a piece in the New York Times . The press we have received has been phenomenal.

So, although it is 42 degrees outside, things are heating up inside. The game is up on Creators Club catalog in the Playtest category. In the meantime, Nathan furiously continues to work on the last minute things, like testing what happens when memory cards get swapped out during gameplay and setting up the trial version of the game, with up-sell screen and all.

The great news is, so far no bug crashes.

If you are on Creators Club, we encourage you to play-test Weapon of Choice and give your feedback. If not, you too shall have your chance to obliterate hideous aliens; Weapon of Choice will be ready for purchase on 11/19.

After a couple days of testing with no crashes, we anticipate getting the game in for Peer Review. (Again, Creators Club members, please Peer Review us)

This is THE week- and as they love to say here, in the rolling hills of Indiana...   read

7:28 PM on 10.27.2008

Sound Design and Media software

My weakest area is in sound design and creation. I always dread having to make sound effects for the game. I end up enjoying it, sort of like exercising, though it's tough to get the motivation to start. I like to think positively that it's the easiest area for me to improve in when working with sound effects. Fortunately Hamdija is handling all the music and doing a real bang-up job.

I would love to have someone (other than me) recording each sound effect from nature, or blending natural sounds to get a new sound. Unfortunately, I don't have the time or the budget or the equipment to record each sound effect in Weapon of Choice. I honestly think the sound design is coming along at least satisfactorily, and sometimes really well. Since I'm not recording the sounds, that means I have to get samples from somewhere.

When I first started in the industry over a decade ago, RWS was using 'the General' for sound effects. I think that still stands a very good option, but since then I've worked for wealthier studios which employ sound designers in-house who often record new, unique sounds for each effect. MBG has neither of those options. While $1500 isn't a fortune for the General, it is enough to force us to consider other options. One of those options I've found while looking turned out to be great.

The site is called SoundSnap and as far as I can tell, it offers royalty free sounds effects for commercial use. To make sure I 'make it mine' I never use a raw sound from their site. I always mix each effect with at least one other sound I get from there, or from some other free site. Because it is 'user-driven' it's sometimes difficult getting a specific effect, but it often has lots of effects for most things, and they're all free. I do find that SoundSnap usually has high quality sounds and can be great in a game once you massage them a little.

For the sound massaging, I like to use GoldWave.
I actually did buy a license for only 45 dollars which I felt has definitely been worth it. The demo version of the program offers most of the functionality if you’re interested. The program itself has many mixing features and is fast and simple to use.

To round out this media post, I actually used Windows Movie Maker to create the first trailer of the game. Wikipedia tells me it's been bundled since Windows Me (so you probably own it) but I've never needed it until now. I've found it fairly powerful and easy to use. Since it’s free and did the job well enough, I'm sticking with it for now--and the new gameplay trailer which will be available next week!   read

1:01 PM on 10.10.2008

For Flock's Sake

Flocking is the sort of programming that you can lose days experimenting with the subtleties. Some of you old-timers may remember the Stanley and Stella video from back in the 80's. Craig Reynolds "boids" taught me my original programming understanding of flocking. Since learning about it, I've programmed flocking systems several times (all for fun) and was excited to come up with an enemy to use it in Weapon of Choice.

The creature in the game is called the Darting Flock. In the prototype, the center (shown as a white rectangle) is the controlling element. The green fliers try to guard it. As the player shoots their way through the flock, the controller creates more fliers that encircle it. Some even dive-bomb you. The fun is trying to cut a hole through the flock and shoot the center while dodging incoming fliers.


Originally I tried simply having the fliers steer around the controller, and constantly home in on its center with an acceleration, sort of like the Earth being slung around the Sun. While the behavior looks decent in the video, it feels a little chaotic (which can be exciting) but generally primitive. I decided to try out a flocking algorithm to spice up the action.

As described by the "boids" system, flocking works by having many objects follow a small set of steering rules. I've simplified the system more but also added some changes to it to keep it interesting. The new actions are: 1. Find the closest neighbor. 2. Follow a target position offset behind the neighbor by a random angle. 3. Recheck for the closest neighbor every few seconds. The exceptions are a few 'leader fliers' which need to know where the flock is going. They are forced to follow the controller at a certain distance, while all other fliers connect from there. When the leaders follow the controller, they are actually following a position just outside the controller that orbits the controller itself. This indirection gives even more motion to the group.

The blue lines in the image are between the flier and their target. The white lines are from the flier that is getting followed by another flier. You can trace the chain of fliers as they follow each other to see the order.

Flocking can be more expensive than homing from a processing standpoint since every flier has to check the distance to every other flier. By staggering and delaying how often this happens we can ease the burden on the processor.

Several neat behaviors come from this. The fliers may fly outwards suddenly but will eventually come back around, usually in a wild spiral. When the player kills fliers, for a few seconds some of them will follow their dead friends down before reacquiring a new neighbor! This makes the fight a lot more exciting and can create some really intelligent looking emergent behavior from relatively simple programming.   read

7:52 PM on 10.01.2008

Prototyping and Rough Design

With the DBP contest over, it's time to get back to core development. That means finishing the game on time! There are a number of new levels blocked out and I've separated them into two groups. One group is to be finished by November 1st, the second group is additional levels for finishing the game mid-way through November. Why would we have two finish dates? Because unfortunately Microsoft hasn't released exactly when Xbox Live Community Games will be launched and we want to be ready for launch. From various internet rumors, it seems likely it will be some time in November, but we're not certain when.

Originally I was planning on the game releasing in December, but having the potential release date of the game pushed closer in time does wonders for figuring out design priorities. It was clear what levels we should include in order to finish by November 1st. Originally there were over 40 levels outlined (I was completely delusional at the time) and close to 60 monsters from small to gigantic. There will be more like 9-12 levels in the game, but these will definitely be the most action-packed and distinct levels from those originally envisioned.

Recently, I've somehow managed to convince Jack Mayer to help design some of the levels. Jack brings many years experience with him along with Xbox 1 development time. In order to make the most efficient use of two people, we decided early on to rapidly prototype the enemies and the new levels. Jack is roughing in the level as I am prototyping the enemies. The rough art consists of building a skeleton for an enemy, and just using colored blocks on the bones. I do animate them but in a much less detailed manner. The programming for the enemy is created, but again not near to the same quality the final version will reach. The amount of polish for the prototype itself is a balancing act. The more polished you make it the more problems you may uncover early, but the more work it takes away from the final pass on the enemy or level.

Here's an screenshot of a test level with a prototyped enemy:

By contrast, here's a screenshot of a finished level with complete assets:

The benefit of all this early work is now the level designer can get the gameplay (enemies, hazards, vehicles) in place, more accurate, and more fun than without using prototypes and just jumping straight to polished assets. In addition we can find level art needs previously unknown, new enemy art needs, and generally new ideas can be figured out early on, rather than trying to shoehorn them into the finished assets. For the current level and enemies prototypes we identified the need for: new hazards on a climbable enemy, new attack abilities to balance an enemy's attacks better, and new environmental hazards to be used throughout the level to vary level pacing.

Without this early work we either would have never made these improvements, or we would have wanted to make them but at the cost of much more rework down the road.   read

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