The Pivot

Okay, yeah, I can hear the groans already. The word pivot has recently been a bit maligned as one of those trendy new management terms. Or perhaps it’s an old trend by now, living alongside terms like “synergy”, and “thinking outside the box” and “paradigm shift”. The list is endless.

But annoyingly, this curious expression adequately describes what happened to the initial design of “Alien Avian Attack”. Being primarily a VFX geek, I’d be the first one to admit that I was the least knowledgable person on the planet regarding game design, but I will also happily submit that I’m willing to try most anything in an effort to discover new stuff. And that’s just what we had with the first version of “Alien Avian Attack”, the version that no one ever saw.

I remember the day it happened quite vividly – the game programming had been going well, I’d just begun to see some really nice stuff coming out of the software side, with some kick ass particles, and lots of nifty glowy stuff, the works. The trouble though, was that as radical as the initial design was, and the idea was quite radical, it just… wasn’t… er… fun.

The pivot itself happened during the middle of a lunch time review (I had set meal #23), where we were looking at a version that had the user turned into an immortal who couldn’t be killed. For some bizarre reason, it was just plain fun and satisfying to warp the player ship into the oncoming paths of the avian spaceships. No really, it was just darned fun. And thus, in a fraction of a second, the game changed.

Well, it didn’t change all that quickly, as there was one thing that we didn’t have: buy in from the designer. So shortly thereafter, I sent a letter that one of my partners refers to as the “Telling James Cameron that he’s wrong letter” (if you haven’t tried this activity with the real James Cameron, I suggest you try it. It’s heaps of fun. No really.) The designer was on the other side of the planet at the time, and I was worried about the emotional investment that he had in the previous design.

The trick being, that although we could simply force the issue, I really wanted buy-in (another potentially dodgy management term) from everyone on the team. And if you believe that you can’t have an emotional attachment to a design, I’d ask you to think again. When you pour your soul into a product, it really can be a difficult thing to see the problems in your work. Standing back and taking an objective look is trouble to say the least. Telling someone else you don’t like the work is also difficult.

Luckily, the designer took the letter all quite well, and poured himself into the new focus with enthusiasm. So yup, we pivoted, and the game ended up all the better for it. But then again, that seems to be the name of the game now.

Pivoting. And the “telling James Cameron he’s wrong letter”. Two important skills to master in the game of life.

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It’s All In A Name

So you’ve all heard the ChilliBurn Adventures story. right? (if you haven’t it’s here )  Well, okay, I’m gonna come clean and admit that in truth, the ChilliBurn Adventures restaurant story is a bit on the, well, uh, shall we say, creative side. The real fact of the matter, is that we chose the name based on the TGF.

Of course, those in the know will instantly recognize the validity of the Total Guffaw Factor index, which is, in it’s simplest definition, the ability of a name to induce fits of humorous guffawing in the viewer. The scientific reasoning being that anything that induces a “heh, that’s cool” response will be perfectly able to cross cultural, national, and planetary boundaries with ease. This is particularly true if everyone speaks english, which, magically, in most science fiction stories, everyone does. Or they have a babble-fish.

In the process of looking for names, we came up with some fairly preposterous ideas indeed, with things like:

  • Tidy Little Monster
  • Amalgamated Spaceship Corp
  • Volcanic Eruption Slot Machine
  • Am I Crazy Games
  • Sideways Exploration Company (which was rejected due to this problem: SidewaySexPloration.com… yes, you can see the problem)

Just to name a few of our less lame attempts. Yes, the less lame ones. No really.

The final name, Chilli Burn Adventures, was, quite annoyingly, the brainchild of Loren, our chief in-house software nerd. This was a particularly troubling point due to the quite obvious fact that once again the geeks had outdone the so-called “creative” staff.

Which annoyingly brings up the next problem: Chilli can be spelled with many, shall we say, creative variants. The result being that after much growling on my part, we ended up completely blowing out the formerly-tiny insignificant line item in our budget known as the, uh, domain name budget.

But here we are. A cool name, and many many many domain names that are almost the same, and that point to the same location.

Yet at the end of the day, the moral of the story is pretty clear: if a great idea pops out of an unexpected direction, grab it. It really doesn’t matter where it came from, all that matters is that it’s good.

(no really, lots and lots of domain names… try http://chileBurnAdventures.com, and http://chillyBurnAdventures.com and you’ll see what I mean).

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We’ve been hacked!

Yes indeed, we’ve been hacked.

Or rather, our game, “Alien Avian Attack” has.

Just yesterday I was performing that oh-so-important marketing test known as “the google search”, when lo and behold, smack in the middle of a chinese wares website, I found the hack. It seems that some kind folk in the middle kingdom have taken our android apk, dis-combobulated it, and re-assembled it with what I can only assume are han characters.

Alien Avian Attack The Chinese Hack

Potentially dodgy chinese hack - don't try this at home kids.

Now ordinarily, one would expect that, as software blokes who are trying to earn a living on the software flowing from the tips of our fingers, we would be quite angry with this. But in reality, the strange matter of fact is, that I’m not at all that fussed. In fact, I’m curiously sort of flattered – someone out there in the big wide world thought that our game was good enough to spend the time to translate and hack it to bits.

The second and more important reality is that there is in fact, no easy way for exceedingly small western companies like us to find and evaluate the way that games of the handheld variety can even be sold within the Chinese market. In the western world, although there is always in my mind some suspicion of large corporate entities (mostly due to their anonymity), in China, our intelligence on the trustworthiness of software companies and distributors is almost non-existent. As our primary outlet for “Alien Avian Attack” is at present, Google, this is quite problematic – their inability to get past the Chinese government means that that there is not a trustworthy western proxy company that we can trust to negotiate and license stuff fairly.

So the end result: both the Chinese and ourselves have very little choice. They can’t easily get our game without pirating it, and because we’re a microscopic developer we can’t easily sell it to them.

To me, this is the real crime. It’s also a huge hole in the market that I hope someone fills sometime soon. Clearly the Chinese populace wants access to the worlds’ software, but clearly the folks making the rules in the middle kingdom see things differently. And thus, is the Chilli Burn China Problem. Pity.

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Hello and Welcome!

Hello and welcome to our very first blog piece. Within this scintillating blog, we here at the Chilli Burn Adventures Corporation are going to explore the ins and outs of game development technology. With any luck, we’re also going to pontificate on the arcane business of, uh, the game business, drawing back that opaque curtain of uncertainty that clouds this handheld game arena. So sit back, relax, and we hope you enjoy the ride, and don’t notice just how difficult it is for us software geeks to put a coherent sentence together.

Posted in Strangely strange | Leave a comment