Pteroglider For Free (aka 32 people get right narked)

By Kieron Gillen on May 20th, 2008 at 6:25 pm.

Shooting upwards. Shoot... em up.
Well, they probably won’t, as they’ve had it for years, but the fact that there’s only 32 of them is still worth mentioning. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Polish Casual Game Developers Codeminion have released the first game they ever developed, Pteroglider, for free. Why are they making such an act of generosity? “Basically the game was a commercial failure.” they say, ” It sold an outstanding number of 32 copies worldwide and simply (from today’s perspective) was a bad game in our opinion”. More of Codeminion’s comments and some analysis of my own, beneath the cut.

Well, it’s agreeably candid at least. As well as lobbing it online, they also do an small post-mortem and – like most post-mortems where the developer realises something went awry and aren’t going to try and cover it up, it’s actually jolly fun. In a “Man, I’m glad that didn’t hapen to me way”. For example…

But wait there’s more! The game turned out much too difficult for casual gamers, at least for those who had DirectX 9 installed. In fact it was even too difficult for most hardcore players. Of course we didn’t realize it at first. Pteroglider was very easy for us since we’ve been playing it every day during the whole 3 months of development. What is interesting is that the difficulty is not only due to poor level balance or a lack of tutorial. The very gameplay mechanics were also difficult. Some of you might ask at this point – how difficult the mechanics of a space shooter can be? Well, needless to say we managed to make it quite difficult…

And they’re right. It’s not just difficult, but also a tad unfair, making more than a few schoolboy shooter errors, as well as some advanced-class ones which I can’t even remember anyone else doing. The schoolboy ones are things like the ship being simply too large on screen for nimble dodging, which they then worked against by having an energy bar for the ship – but energy bars never quite work in this sort of shooter, just creating a sense of ambivalence about your actual condition rather than the razor-edge sense of bullet-by-bullet survival.

But the real “Huh” is that it doesn’t just have an energy bar – you also have an ammunition bar. So it’s a scrolling shooter where you can run out of bullets – or, strictly speaking, reduced to a phut… phut… phut instead of your usual dakkadakkadakkadakkadakkadakka. This isn’t a problem, as almost all enemies will drop ammo when shot, so you can mostly keep your reservoir (and health, for that matter) up by careful collection. The problem strikes when you hit an end of level boss which drops a negligible number of them, and you’re left trying to wrestle an enormous fungoid creature with the extra-dimensional equivalent of a small brown twig.

(This problem – no difficulty in most situations, odd virtualy unavoidable death in others – last reared its head in the sub-mediocre Lost Planet, where you had to keep your energy bar up or else you’d freeze to death. Problem being, most enemies dropped heat energy – which also acts as a shield. On most difficulty levels, you’d have to go some to get killed at almost any point – except when you’re fighting a larger foe. I once froze to death whilst waiting for a big boss to die.)

(On the brighter side, Pteroglider doesn’t have any indeterminable cut-scenes which reduced me to screaming SHUT UP! JUST FUCKING SHUT UP! at my monitor in a psychopathic enough manner to get my housemate to wander downstairs to make sure if I was okay)

(That’s enough about Lost Planet)

It’s not all bad though:

This part of the article will be much shorter. But some things must have gone right. Despite of all the mistakes we made even today we tend to get emails and phone calls from people who want us to resurrect the game. Still after many years the game graphics look good and quite fresh.

And they’re right. The enemy are agreeably fleshy. Also, there’s also “innovative mouse targeting” where you use your mouse to target, innovatively. I suspect this may not be as innovative as Codeminion think, but it’s good to see they were trying. Also I really like how the turret on top of your Pteroglider rotates. And the secondary-weapon homing missiles which spiral off and miss nine times out of ten are hilarious. Which takes us back to bad things, so I’ll be quiet for now, and just note I’m being playfully over-cruel. For a free shooter, it’s slick enough and I don’t regret my fifteen minutes of shooting with it.

And for Codeminion, there was one thing which makes the game awesome:

This is the only one of our games that was completed on time and on budget. Back then we (me and Konrad) where writing our engineering thesis’ and we decided to take a 3 month brake to complete a game and start selling it. Well, this is basically what we did, so one could say that our plan was completed 100% and Pteroglider was a success. But somehow it doesn’t sound right…

Bless ‘em. As they note, it’s doing this which learned them to move onto slicker things. And learning by doing and failing is, for me, the best way to learn. Or I hope it is, given the amount I fail.

The full version can be downloaded here though – as Codeminion notes – “Please note that I don’t plan to provide any kind of support for the game. In case your brain gets damaged by the innovative mouse targeting, please note that you are playing at your own risk”.

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10 Comments »

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  1. Down Rodeo says:

    (See John Walker RPS)

    Just kidding – these are both good pieces.

  2. John Walker says:

    I HATE it when that happens. But Kieron’s was best, so he wins.

  3. Lorc says:

    Hmm – I can’t work out much of what’s going on. Especially what it means when my health or energy are blinking and making beeping sounds. Nice pretty enemies though.

    And those “homing” missiles really are pretty useless most of the time, aren’t they? They sort of mill around in a circle then jet offscreen – I like to pretend that they’re saying “Bugger this – I’m going to go off for a pint”.

    Fun enough though. Certainly releasing it for free brings more joy to the world than carrying it to the grave with them. Not that they’re dead yet but CRITICAL METAPHOR FAILURE ABORT ABORT.

  4. BaronWR says:

    Well, I’ve given it a go and agree with most of the stuff above. Unless I’ve failed dismally to grasp the structure of the game, the biggest problem seems to be that it only has four levels, which can be played through in about 30 min. After that it seems to repeat at higher difficulty. It’s pretty but if you can get through the bulk of the content in half an hour it might be a bit much to expect people to pay.
    I think the beeping sounds are when your unlimited ammo/health/missiles are wearing off, but then there’s a fairly significant lack of feedback from that kind of thing: it’s really hard to tell when you’re being damaged.

    Still, 32 sales is pretty damn depressing. Does anyone know how they originally released it (shareware/demo, that kind of thing)? It could just be lack of publicity…

  5. Matu says:

    Thirty-two sales? So if every astronaut who visited the Moon bought just three copies, it would surpass that amount. Perhaps they only sold it from a stand in their backyard.

  6. Theory says:

    32 people get right naked, eh?

  7. roBurky says:

    Doesn’t seem that bad to me. It’s a nice bit of casual point and click explosionising.
    Main problem is the lack of feedback on getting hit. Even if I start to die lots, I don’t feel in danger.

  8. Muzman says:

    Dont’ Codemasters just have to publish them with a name like that?

  9. Maciej says:

    Thanks for the comments ;)

    > I can’t work out much of what’s going on. Especially what it means when my health or energy are blinking and making beeping sounds

    Beeping means that you are coming out of const/god mode, with health in case red is blinking and ammo in case blue one is.

    > And those “homing” missiles really are pretty useless most of the time, aren’t they?

    The homing missiles have to lock on target to really be homing. In other words you must be sure to have your mouse over the enemy while shooting, otherwise the missile will just go near the point you clicked.

    > Perhaps they only sold it from a stand in their backyard.

    No, the game had everything done like our other games, Press Releases, download site submissions, review sites. We were even picked up by a small publisher for a while..

    BTW, I have also released the music from Pteroglider on my blog in the music section for download in case anyone is interested.

  10. alex dante says:

    Also, there’s also “innovative mouse targeting” where you use your mouse to target, innovatively. I suspect this may not be as innovative as Codeminion think, but it’s good to see they were trying.

    Off the top of my head, Crimsonland (2003) used an identical system. It’s wikipedia entry mentions Abuse (1996) which did the same.