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Month: May 2014

Kero Blaster

Those that know me know that I have an almost unending amount of love for Pixel’s Cave Story, one of the most influential indie titles in history. Pixel’s new release, Kero Blaster, seems to be every bit as wonderful.

I want a little moment stand still by the fact that English speaking a enormous advantage give in this world.

That header is what English looks like to a large part of the Western world, including people in Western and Eastern Europe, parts of South America, Middle and Southern Africa.

أي وانت اى لتل مومنت ستاند ستيل بي ذي فقط ذات انجلش سبيكنغ اى إنرمس ادفانتج جفي إن ذيس ورلد

That’s what English looks like to a large part of the rest of the world, including North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Asia. It’s not even Arabic – it’s English rendered in Arabic glyphs. If an Arab would read this to you, to you it’d sound pretty close to that title of the article, but to an Arab that doesn’t know English it’d mean absolutely nothing.

According to 2010 figures, the internet as a resource features a staggering 80% of pages using the Latin alphabet, and 50% of the entire internet is in English. The second-largest language using the Latin alphabet is German, at approximately 6% of the internet. The four largest non-Latin alphabets, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian, represent about 15% of the internet.

Just the fact that you’re reading this post suggests you read English, so you have full access to 50% of the internet and indirect access to 80% of it. Direct access mean you can understand the text on the page, and indirect access means you do not have to use a translation service or alternative keyboard to be able to search for words on a website in that language. You have severely limited access to about 20% of the internet, because you simply can’t search for a word that uses a different alphabet without using a transliteration service.

For a German, 6% of the internet is directly accessible, 50% of the internet requires learning English and 20% of the internet requires using or learning a new alphabet. For an Arab, less than 1% of the internet is directly accessible, 50% of the internet requires learning English and 80% of the internet requires using or learning a new alphabet.

Our industry basically supports two major languages: English and Japanese, but English is spoken pretty much everywhere around the world. In many ways, English is the lingua franca of our modern society. Whether it’s because of the colonial past of the British Empire or America’s central position in the world economy the past decades, speaking English is a major advantage in the world of gaming.

As a half-Arab, I want to take a moment to consider the effects that has on our industry. Even our most inclusive efforts tend to exclude those that do not speak English, incapable of learning it for any reason, or that have the added disadvantage of using a different alphabet. It’s the purely English content of most of our talks at conferences, but also the fact that most chatrooms and forums simply do not allow any conversation in languages other than English. Bad grammar is frowned upon, eloquence in the language is considered a sign of professionalism and your ability to speak at events, gain any press traction or make any useful contacts is directly correlated to your knowledge of the language.

Most programming languages are English, programming tutorials are English, keyboards are in English, URLs have traditionally been in the Latin alphabet, and the default unicode set doesn’t include most non-Latin alphabets. To drive the point home even further: design tools like Twine 2.0 -a tool famed for its amazing empowering properties- do not actually support non-Latin properly by default. Again, using Arabic as example, when I try and insert that phonetic line from earlier into Twine 2.0, I get the following:

 

You likely can’t tell what’s wrong, though, because you don’t know this alphabet. Scroll back up a little bit to see what it should’ve looked like. If they look alike, your browser itself doesn’t support showing Arabic correctly. If they look different, that’s because somebody working on Twine 2.0 didn’t check the extended font rendering or is using a font not capable of displaying the glyphs properly. These glyphs should’ve been connected in a very specific way, something even multi-million dollar AAA games that spend weeks on making realistic trees do manage to mess up.

Even with the amazing steps forward we’re making in our struggle for diversity, it might be a good idea to realise that the language barrier is probably one of the largest invisible barriers that exists in our industry right now.

Having access to English and the Latin alphabet is a tremendous privilege in our industry, whether it’s the fact that you were born with it or had the opportunity, time, education or money to learn it. That might be something to keep in the back of your head.

Four common questions

I’ve been using ask.fm for the past few months, answering questions from both developers and gamers alike. There are a number of questions that I’ve received more often than any other, and instead of answering those on ask.fm or Twitter, I wanted to sit down and write a proper response. Here are the four most common questions I get about independent game development and my answer to those questions.

How can I get started, or how can I get better at making games?

The answer to this question is always disappointing to many, but the answer truly is to make a game. Games can be infinitely complex, from designing mechanics, creating spritesheets, to writing code. The defining difference between a ‘better’ developer and a ‘lesser’ one isn’t technical knowledge – it’s experience.

If you have absolute no experience, I would recommend visiting Pixel Prospector for a list of game development tools to play around with. Download a bunch of them, and in each one – regardless of what you want to make – get started making Pong, Breakout, Pacman and Space Invaders. When you’ve got those down, visit Compohub to see what game jams are happening and participate in a few.

Independent of what you want to do in the industry, working in small teams or alone forces you to learn about and interact with every aspect of game development.

How do I get more attention for my game?

The baseline is a good game. That’s where you start, you make a good game. You make something that’s personal, unique, interesting or better than anything else that exists.

You’re going to want to think about a number of things:

  • What is the story of the project? I’m not talking game narrative, but the narrative of the development. What is unique about your game, or about your team, and your process?
  • Can I pitch the game in three sentences max, in case I run into somebody that would be interested in the game, and would that pitch explain to them what the game is and why it’s interesting?
  • Have I checked up on how to write a good press release? (see http://gamasutra.com/view/news/167706/Ask_Gamasutra_How_to_annoy_a_games_journalist_with_a_press_release.php)
  • Have you made sure that any claims about your game are actually unique and interesting? Everybody makes an ‘innovative’ game, and everybody makes a ‘good game’. Those things don’t make your game stand out. What would nobody else be able to claim about their game? Learn to talk about that.
  • Can the press easily find high quality screenshots and trailers of my game? (see dopresskit.com)
  • Are there distribution platforms that I could submit my game to?
  • Are there events that I could showcase the game at? (see promoterapp.com/calendar)
  • If I can’t afford to showcase at that event, is there a way I could still go to the event and show the press my game?
  • Are there awards that I can submit my game to? (see promoterapp.com/calendar)
  • Do I have a list of press, YouTubers, Twitch streamers and industry thought leaders? (see http://press.pixelprospector.com/ and http://youtube.pixelprospector.com/)
  • Have I e-mailed all of the people on the above list a code, copy or build for the game? (see http://dodistribute.com/)
  • Do any of the people in the press, YouTube or Twitch community live nearby, and have I checked whether they’d like to meet up?
  • Have I made sure to try and negotiate specified marketing opportunities with every publishing or distribution deal I’ve made for the game?

With marketing efforts, don’t believe in “less is more”. Until you’re somewhat established, more is more. Don’t be afraid to reach out to anything you feel is beyond your size, and don’t feel scared to follow up once or twice. Persistence is key.

What do you feel is the most important trait in a game developer?

The ability to communicate and be communicated to. It doesn’t matter in what way – whether its verbal, through drawing or through prototypes – in the games industry communication is everything. We’re dealing with very abstract ideas, statements that can be interpreted in endless ways and complex problems.

The ability to clearly and properly communicate information, ideas, thoughts and problems in some way is something I value a lot. Vice versa, the ability to listen to someone and figure out what they’re really trying to say, even if they don’t quite have the words for it, is really important.

Even if you’re making a simple game – let’s say a straightforward shooter of sorts – it’s easy to say “people in level 3’s middle section think the game is too hard”, or to nod along when somebody says that.

The problem is that that statement is infinitely confusing. Who is people? What is ‘the middle section’? Do they mean the game ‘up to level 3’s middle section’ is too hard, or that ‘level 3’s middle section’ is too hard? Why do they think it’s too hard? Is it the level design? Are there too many enemies? Not enough ammo? Wrong weapon types? Bad checkpointing? Poorly communicated goals? Do the enemies look too imposing? Is it unclear that you first have to flip that switch to make enemies vulnerable? Does the person telling you know what causes the perceived difficulty, and if so, how do they know? If not, how did they establish the problem in the first place?

Being able to communicate in a way that minimises potential sources of confusion, and being able to ask the questions that resolve gaps in what people communicate towards you will give you a huge advantage. If you learn how to and when to deal with the assumed agreement over communications in some way, you’ll find yourself much more capable to create, market and collaborate on whatever you’re making.

Why are you so loud about feminism?

I describe myself as a feminist because I believe in equality for men and women. However, feminism to me is just a tiny part of a larger struggle for equality for everybody. I believe that the equality debate in games is currently mostly concerned with gender equality because it’s such an obvious and large group in our medium that is entirely underrepresented. I want to see how much progress we can make there first, for women to be considered and treated as full equals by a majority of our industry. Beyond that, I have the same worries for people of colour, people with disabilities, people of different cultural backgrounds and perspectives, people that aren’t heterosexual, people of different socio-cultural backgrounds, people that don’t speak English and those of different nationalities.

Having lived my life as a Dutch-Arabic cis heterosexual able-bodied male, born to a middle-class family in the Netherlands, I’ve seen my share of both sides of privilege. I’ve seen how I get picked out for random checks at airports over a white male, but also how I don’t have to worry for my safety when going on a date.

During my travels, I’ve visited many a community of wonderful developers that simply don’t speak English, or that don’t have the funds to buy computers for at home. In some countries, the idea that one can’t be creative for themselves because of the default state of working as an outsourcing partner for the West is so pervasive that I’m impressed they dare make something of their own. I think acknowledging that we are lucky to be able to even consider being our own person, with our own ambitions and dreams to pursue, is a big step.

This year, Mahdi Bahrami gave a talk at the GDC Experimental Gameplay Workshop (starts around 36:40) about his game Engare. He’s Iranian, and his language is Farsi – which shares the majority of its alphabet with Arabic. It was the first time I’ve seen the scripture of half of my identity on a screen at GDC. It wasn’t even Arabic, but something that resembled it in writing, and regardless of that fact, it still felt like an important moment to me.

Every time I see a list of ‘inspirational people’ in the industry, I count how many of them are female. I also count how many of them aren’t white, straight, English-speaking, white or highly educated. We have to start somewhere, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re there when our ‘people lists’ have gender diversity. That’s really just step one.