April 2011

April 21, 2011

Dark Acre Week 27 Report


[Lost content, likely a demonstration or promotional video for Ball of Steel.]

A day late, and about 10,000 CDN short, but Ball of Steel has been submitted to FlashGameLicense.com and is awaiting approval.

What does that mean exactly? Well, a few things:

This is also going to be the last large-scale 3D project done for some time. The next two major projects will be 2D, done in Corona, for iPad. That’s all I’m able to say currently.

It wasn't: Corona was a bust and pure mobile development was worse than hybrid. –Ed.

There will be a post-mortem on the Ball of Steel development some time before next week’s update, sooner rather than later.

Huge shouts-out are in order:


This week the process of transforming Dark Acre into an ever more official entity continued with the approval of the trademark application.

[Lost content, image. Alt-text “Trademarked”.]

You’ll notice I’ve added the little ™ to anything bearing the name, and this affords that tiny bit more level of authenticity.

Furthermore, the application to become an official Apple developer as Dark Acre is at the 50% mark. I’ve faxed off their required documents and continue to await their approval.

Finally, Amazon.com has extended their direct publishing umbrella to cover Deutschland. This means that Tale of the Madeus is automatically available to any English-reading readers over there.


It’s coming. Are you in?

The following is the content from the post I made on the Ludum Dare forums to register for Compo #20. –Ed.

Once More Around the Bend

Jack’s Back!

How convenient is that that LD20 rolls around just as a break appears in the Dark Acre development cycles? Uncanny, that.

Hoping to bring the improved levels of skills to craft a far better entry than the last one, but mostly just hoping to stay conscious and lucid enough to finish.

Bringing the usual suspects to bear:

  • Unity 3D Pro.
  • C# scripts programmed from scratch, same as before.
  • CS5 Suite, mostly Illustrator/Photoshop.
  • FL Studio 10 Producer Ed.
  • Pixelplacement’s iTween
  • The powers of darkness.

Looking forward to another weekend of madness and torture!

–Dark Acre Jack

I’m really looking forward to participating in this one, not only because it may be the last time I rock out in Unity 3D for a while, but also because I feel that much more confident with the tools and think I may actually pull off something of interest.

As before I won’t be using any libraries or pre-existing assets. I’m not sure this is really an effective way to go about it, but I like doing things on Hard Mode, and if I manage to craft a cool experience from absolute zero in the time allotted, it just makes it that much more of an achievement to me.

That’s it for this week, apologies for making you wait but there was some rather serious business to attend to. Now that this cycle is technically closed, I shall take a long nap, have a long drink, and start catching up on this crazy Backloggery of mine.

See you in seven six!

April 23, 2011

Project Zero Three: Ball of Steel Post-mortem

[Lost content, image. Alt-text “The meaning of post-mortem, but you knew that, right?”]


Ball of Steel marks the third public project for Dark Acre, and an important milestone in the overall development of both creator and company.

Quick stats:

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that P03 was forcefully birthed from the ashes of P02, and a very quick and dirty prototype was thrown up as a flailing entry into Kongregate’s Unity Game Contest.

It didn’t win, but it was a huge victory in several ways:

I had been going through the usual self-flagellation following a ‘failed’ project, and the generally positive response (read: criticism was all constructive and the build worked with few major flaws) helped buoy my spirits and gave me a sense of purpose.

The first steps in starting the Project Zero Three development cycle were then largely taken care of. Pre-production was done, and a lot of the initial assets were done. What I needed to do in the eight-week allotment then was polish, polish, and polish.

The goal with the project was always to produce a very accessible toy-like game that was playable by all-ages via web browser, and one that tried to capture the feel of the classic wooden tilt-mazes that many of us grew up with. I believe that Ball of Steel has taken that goal and run far with it, producing an experience that fulfills and exceeds the original vision.

At the end of the cycle I had a game that I’m very proud of, and it now awaits approval for bidding on FlashGameLicense.com, another big step forward and hopefully will result in the first real ‘pay-day’ for Dark Acre.


Bigger was Better

If you played the first version, you’d have noticed that in almost all cases the ball was channeled down very narrow corridors towards strictly defined goals. This made the overall maze size small and cute but afforded the player little freedom.

[Lost content, image. Alt-text ”Bigger was Better“]

The first two weeks of production were spent doubling the size of all the mazes and adjusting the models to allow for more action on the ball. Now the player can knock around the walls a lot more, and with careful steering can gain higher speeds throughout. One of the major feedback items was that the overall speed of the game was too slow, and this was improved with the larger board sizes that allowed greater ‘twisting’ of the rotational knobs.

No More Insta-kill

The top-rated comment on the Kong was from user roboboy, who wrote:

a blast of flame wont melt a steel ball unless its there long enough.

Thanks, roboboy. You’re right. The updated version now features a damage-over-time system, and the ball only melts if the player stands in the fire. Perhaps it could be used as a trainer for World of Warcraft raids?

Established Asset Pipeline

As experience with Unity grows, so does the agility with which projects can be organized and completed.

[Lost content, image. Alt-text “Unity Alchemy”]

I now have a very solid system of getting assets into the game and making them behave correctly the first time they’re implemented. This isn’t to say it’s fool-proof by any means, but it’s reached a level of maturity where I’m no longer worrying about managing things like 3D models, audio, and variables, and concerning myself more with making sure the game is working and fun.

Replaced Introductory Mazes with Menu

I thought I was being rather clever, forcing the player to navigate a couple of sample mazes before getting into the game. Turns out that getting rid of that and allowing the player to jump right into the experience saved a ton of down-time.

The initial mazes were designed as trainers in the first place, so the extraneous navigation was just a headache. Not only that, but the swap to a proper menu let me spend time with an oft-neglected component of development, the Graphical User Interface, or GUI. I’m extremely happy with the new system, and hope that players find it intuitive and attractive.


Every project prior to Ball of Steel was a completely solo effort, with me handling 100% of the workload. And while I really prefer it that way, this time I decided to reach out to some of my former classmates and friends from Vancouver Film School and get some levels made.

The only requirements I asked from them were the paper plans for some mazes, giving them the mechanisms that could possibly populate one. Jack Lin returned the interesting, player-choice driven maze ‘Pathway’, and Kelly Wright went beyond the call of duty by providing not only the entire 6th world, but all the narrative for it as well! I’m indebted to their contributions, as they helped me spot a lot of issues with the game system and gave me a lot of insight into my own design process.


Abandonment Issues

As I’d already given up on one project to get invested in this one, I was very much afraid of producing another stinker. So much so that I fixated on making this one blow the doors off the initial Kong prototype.

While in some regards this was a positive thing, as it focused me and really helped me set my nose to the grindstone, I became very gun-shy about killing an intended feature too early. This would prove near-disastrous in the fourth week of development, when I lost the entire week attempting to build a player-controlled platform.

What was to eventually become the much more simplified Lift mechanism, the player moveable platform would have added a raft of new features like kill-floors and increased multi-solution puzzles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to make it work in a way that was fun. After six days of head-to-desk, I simply scrapped it and moved on. The thing was, I realized after about three days of development that this was what would happen, yet I doggedly gave up the entire week to prove myself right.

Certainly, I learned a lot about the design and the process, but I would much rather have had those three days to polish the working results further.

Unoptimized Prime

The last version of Ball of Steel requires patience from the player. Not only in the playing of the game, as it was designed to be a relaxing and casual experience, but in the initial loading of the thing.

I’m getting better in a lot of areas. On this project, I feel like my data management skills have improved tremendously. They’re still lacking in one key area, at least regarding web-deployment, and that’s in the optimization of the loading process.

I front-load the entire game from the initial startup. It takes roughly 45 to 90 seconds to fully load, depending on Internet conditions, but once it’s in it runs solid-state without any visible or unintended hitching or loads.

Sounds great right? My main concern is that in this world of instant gratification many players may forgo the experience because of what could be perceived as an overlong load time.

If you’re reading this, and are eagerly awaiting the full release, please give Ball of Steel the time it needs to load. It will be worth it!

Hopefully sponsors will like this, as it gives them that rough minute to show off their advertisement or logo.

Lack of Razzle-Dazzle

Ball of Steel is an exercise in subtle understatement. The music, sound effects, and overall visual oomph are subdued, and this is by design. While this fits the initial specifications perfectly, it’s the one area that I feel like I could have done more with.

Certainly, the fact that Ball of Steel contains a working and branching narrative is a major win. But couple that with the presentation of the text limited to static menu items and it falls a bit flat. I would have liked to have had at the very least an opening and closing animation, with a medium goal of between-world animations and an overall target of level-to-level still images.

But when you’re working under an 8-week cycle, certain things go out the window. Again, I’m super-happy that there’s at the very least a narrative in this one, but always want just that little bit more.


[Lost content, image. Alt-text “See? Sharp. Click here to go to the Github repository.”]

In the last minute I learned all about site-locking, and how it can work to protect against piracy.

What is site-locking? Essentially it allows the game to detect whether it’s currently being hosted on a legitimate server or not. In your own code you can specify what steps to take if it’s not.

Thanks to the mighty mighty Quickfingerz, we figured out how to get a proper site-lock code into a Unity build for deployment to FlashGameLicense.com, and I’m happy to announce that he’s given permission to post the working script to the repository.

[Lost content, GitHub open source code for site-locking.] Place this code on the first-loaded game object in your game and it should help in preventing your game from being pirated. Thanks again, ‘fingerz!

Thus ends another project in the life of the Dark Acre. It was an amazing experience, and I’m truly thankful for all the support that my friends, family, and fans have shown so far. I wake up every morning amazed that I’m in the position to do what I love doing the most and live the dream I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.

Thank you so very much, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon!

P.S.: If you’re looking around madly for the game to play, have patience please.

As of this post it is still under review at FlashGameLicense.com, and pending approval is likely to sit in limbo for a couple of months while the bidding system runs its course.

As always, thanks for reading!

April 25, 2011

Ball of Steel Special Report

[Lost content, likely an image link to Ball of Steel as hosted on the now-defunct FlashGameLicense.com.]

Dark Acre is pleased to announce that Ball of Steel has been approved for bidding on FlashGameLicense.com!

If you are a sponsor or registered developer, please feel free to check out the hosted build at [Lost content, offsite host of game build.]

You can also access the local product page here.

If you’re a supporter of Dark Acre, it would be really great if you could spread the word via your social networks.

A big thanks goes out to Greg at FGL for his excellent support and advice during this process. Thank you!

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