Code Hero Kickstarter Update Alpha 2
Our Communication With Backers Needs To Improve
Our communication with our backer community needs to improve dramatically to keep backers informed on how the project's progressing. Here's my personal apology for the communication failures so far:
Hello backer. I owe you a thanks for your support and an apology for our lack of updates on all the progress we've made with your help. I started the Code Hero project to make a game that teaches people how to make games and you backed us to help make that happen. We are going to finish this game for you and everybody else in the world who wants to learn how to code.
I believe in this mission and I'm grateful that you and so many others have believed in Code Hero too and supported us to work on this project. I worked on the idea to make a prototype for a year before asking for your help on Kickstarter, I built a team to work on it for a year since, and we are committed to finishing this game and continuing to add to it so you can make games of your own.
Game development is hard and many studios and projects fail, but I can't let you down because what we're making is important. It's important to me personally to give all the people in the world a way to learn to code that is actually fun. I won't let any obstacles stop the Code Hero team from completing this. It's my life purpose to make this game because I want to see you make games of your own. Software development is hard work and we're behind schedule and solving technical challenges to add player level creation much harder than the already huge creative challenge we set ourselves to begin with. But every big project faces big challenges and we're going to figure ours out and get the game out and keep updating it and expanding it to make it grow to keep challenging the skills of our players as they learn more and more game coding skills.
Many of you may not have tried the alpha we showed and released at PAX or alpha 2 which we're releasing today. I encourage you to download it and try it and see how much we've accomplished so far. The first alpha shows a world called Gamebridge Unityversity and your first mentor Ada Lovelace who guides you through the tour of the game. First you visit the Arcade you can play and post player-created games built with the world editing tools, but first you visit the Labyrinth where you learn how to edit the game's variables to beat it. Next you visit the Library where you can learn about Unityscript programming. Then you visit the Real Artist Shipyard where you're introduced to the Scenebox world editor to make and ship your first level. The tour is designed to take the player from playing an adventure game to making their own right from the outset. It isn't complete yet, but it shows what we built and we're hard at work expanding on that first release to get the new functions fully working and the new training levels fleshed out.
We're releasing a new second alpha to show what we've added since then and we're working towards a third more feature complete alpha that will be ready for general use as a complete learning tool.
I know the level of frustration some people have is high right now and that it is my fault for not communicating about our ongoing progress, but I want to reassure everyone who has backed us not to panic: Code Hero is not dead and we will not let our supporters and Kickstarter backers down. All our backer rewards will be delievered along with the game. It is taking longer than we hoped, but the game is becoming awesomer than we planned too. I'll post a more detailed update soon with the new alpha build and answer any questions and concerns people may have.
If you'd like to reach me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer your all your questions or concerns.
The plan for communication with backers in the future
We'll put out regular updates and playable builds with screenshots and video of new art and gameplay in development on the first of every month. We'll also blog as frequently as we can, with about one smaller post per week showing what we're up to.
Who will take responsibility for making sure community communication improves?
Code Hero has a new dedicated community manager, Shaun Hansel. Shaun has experience teaching programming and using Code Hero and Unity in college classrooms, and he’s been the most active developer of innovative hacks and creations since the very first Code Hero prototype
A word from Code Hero’s new community manager, Shaun Hansel:
I taught students how to code in Java for several years, and I had been using games as a teaching device, to keep students interested and engaged. When I learned about Code Hero, downloaded and played the prototype, I was floored. It was a genius idea, and I just wanted to see it completed. I installed the prototype version on some of the computers at the school, and had my Computer Science students play it. They loved the idea, and had a great time trying to do things the game wasn’t intended to do. Genius.
After playing through the prototype, I hit the website and read everything I could about it and the company, and there I learned about Unity. I downloaded a copy and went through the tutorials on the Primer website, and learned how to load a level. Hey, Code Hero has levels, and it was made in Unity, so...
Code Hero was the reason I decided to learn how to use Unity. My original goal in learning Unity was to be able to better hack Code Hero, and make it do things it wasn’t meant to do, like drive cars or play Pong. I’m still very excited about Code Hero, and because of it, I’m working on a few of my own games in Unity now.
With my bio out of the way, I’ll get down to business. I will be working with Primer as the new Community Manager. Primarily I will be focusing on keeping lines of communication clear, both from Kickstarter Backers and fans, as well as from the Code Hero team. I will be working toward making the Primer Forums a central line of communication to and from the community. I will also be monitoring the Kickstarter comments and the Facebook Code Hero Army pages, and will ensure everyone receives the same information and response to questions in a timely and regular manner.
While we wait for the next version to come out, I highly recommend you download the latest version and play around with it. Maybe download Unity, read some tutorials, learn some Unityscript, and come prepared for the next version.
- Shaun Hansel, email@example.com
Questions & Answers
We're adding a summary of the answers to questions people have asked us here. We'll continue to add to the Q&A and summarize the whole plan for going forward as best we can. We realize that these answers may not be enough for some, and we're not going to be able to make everybody happy until we deliver the game after a lot more hard work and perseverance. You may still have doubts about our chances of success, but we whill not waver in our commitment to finishing this project and creating an awesome game about making games. All we ask is the patience and support to continue our mission and finish the job because however difficult it is and however long it takes, Code Hero is going to make learning to code easier and faster and the work and time will be worth it for all the lives it can change when it is complete.
How we began
I began developing Code Hero on my own in January of 2011. I hired some programmer friends to help me make more progress and we built a playable game prototype.
The Original Prototype
The plan to expand Code Hero into a full game
The original code ray puzzle solving was a gamer-friendly way to teach players to manipulate objects with code, but to teach players how to put together their own worlds required a way to create and edit objects and attach code to them. This required building an interface for editing, loading and saving Unity game levels. To do this required much more sophisticated programming and design than the original code raycasting prototype, and we knew we needed to raise money to do that.
Our plan to finish the game with the Kickstarter funding we had
We narrowed the game’s goals down to 3 things that players would be introduced to by Ada Lovelace in a tour of the Gamebridge Unityversity world:
1. The Arcade: Playing Labyrinth levels that you can hack from within to introduce how games work and playing user-created games made by other players.
2. The Library: Unityscript puzzle levels that teach and test your mastery of Unity programming concepts, with levels for each of the core classes.
3. The Shipyard: The ability to create user-generated levels and share them with other players online. We wanted players to be able to get used to the powerful level-editing and programming tools of Unity within a fun and safe game environment so they could take their skills directly into real Unity game development.
This was our plan to expand the original prototype into a fully fledged game to teach game programming.
We launched the Kickstarter in January 2012 with a $100,000 goal. The Kickstarter ended on February 23, 2012. In the last 10 days we went from We raised $170,954. We finally had the resources to build it.
Kickstarter charged 5% while Amazon charged 3-5% for credit card processing fees. After fees, we had about $153K to work with. We estimated costs of making and shipping all physical rewards at about $30,000, which left us about $123K for development costs.
Our first priority was to hire more programmers and artists to get the game built. Team leader Alex Peake was already doing code, art, music, design, writing, and so on. We hired a producer, an instructional designer, 3 Unity programmers and 2 artists for the game itself, plus 3 web developers for the site’s design, Drupal development, server administration and core C# level upload/download backend.
Everyone on the project worked for low rates to make the money last and help the project we all believed in succeed. To make it work on a low budget, 6 of us became roommates in the cheapest place we could find near Noisebridge hackerspace where most of us met. We filled it with bunkbeds, worked together every day and still live together now. IGN generously gave us free office space as part of their indie game incubator, and we worked there alongside other indie developers in cubicles most of the time.
Altogether, our payroll went from about $15K to about $25K per month and should have lasted us about 6 months. We thought that would be enough time to develop the prototype into the fully fledged game, and we set to work building it.
Why did the project run out of money
Code Hero’s development was highly complex and everything took longer than we expected. Below is a more detailed breakdown of some of the things that delayed the project. On a tight budget, delays aren't recoverable by asking for extensions like with a publisher, and each slowdown bit into our remaining funds.
We had completed preparations to order and ship the physical shirts and boxes when we realized that at that burn rate we weren't going to have enough money to finish the game and we'd be shipping shirts and boxes for a game that wouldn't come out unless we found a way to fund the rest of the development.
What happened when we ran out of money
We'd been talking to investors about raising more money to fund development to completion. When the funds literally ran out, many of us kept working knowing we might not get paid for it because of our faith in what we were building and our belief that we'd find new funding. Funding talks fell through, and most of the full-time team had to find other work to pay the bills.
What Caused Delays
A number of creative and technical challenges cost us precious time. These aren't excuses and we're responsible for our mistakes. This is a partial list of them:
Leadership: I, Alex Peake, as the originator of Code Hero and leader of the development team, bear chief responsibility for the whole of the project. Everyone on the team worked incredibly hard and did terrific work, and I'm proud of what we accomplished and I am responsible for not leading the team better and correcting our course early enough to narrow the scope and get a good game done with what we had instead of holding on to the original plan about what the game needed to be. I've learned a lot from my mistakes, and I'm going to take heed of all the advice and lessons learned through this to take responsibility for turning this project around and getting Code Hero back on track and funded and completed so people can play it and learn to code and make games of their own.
Inexperience: Most of our team was made up of talented students and indies rather than long-time game industry veterans. We were figuring it out as we went along by asking more experienced developers how we should do things. This cost us a lot of time.
Doing things that haven’t been done before: It’s hard to find proven models to follow when you make a game that has programming-based gameplay that is completely different from any games that preceded it.
Online Services Development: The online component of Code Hero is necessary to allow players to build and share their work but it adds to the project’s complexity a lot to simultaneously develop a client game app and a web site and backend.
Changing Version Control: We were having difficulties with Unity Asset Server not syncing files and had to manually re-merge many changes. When we attempted to switch over to Subversion, the switch caused more problems than it solved and we went back to using Asset Server.
Our Current Financial Situation
We’re out of funds and this has slowed progress down compared to when we were fully funded.
The Current Team
However, we still have a team. I continue to do lead programming, art, music, writing and design. 5 programmers are continuing to work as volunteers. We will deliver the game we’ve promised and complete the project.
If you're interested in contributing to the project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what skills you'd like to contribute. We aren't currently funded but if you're interested in joining our current volunteer team, you could make a contribution and be part of finishing the project.
Why didn't the physical Kickstarter rewards ship already?
We were planning to ship them early on and had the shirt order ready to go but we had difficulty figuring out an auto-update mechanism for the USB drives that would keep them useful for a long time. In retrospect, we should have just shipped all the shirt-only orders early on until we figured out the rest. Once development was falling behind schedule we were trying to finish the game with what we had left so we could give people the game first and foremost. We tried to raise more money to pay for the shirts and rewards and a second round of funding, but that didn't work out.
When will people receive physical Kickstarter rewards?
We will still fulfill our physical rewards to backers. We don't have a date we can promise yet because it is contingent on making more progressa and raising more funds, but we're committed to delivering the game and the rewards and refunds to anybody who doesn't want to wait to see those completed.
Backer Refunds will take time
We're obligated to refund backers who haven't received their rewards and aren't willing to wait for us to make more progress and get new funding to fulfill our backer obligations. Because we currently don't have the money to make the shirts or pay refunds, backers who want them will have to wait until we can afford to pay them. Email email@example.com if you want a refund.
Will team members get paid for work they did after we ran out of money?
Yes, all team members who worked without getting paid for the last month will get compensated when we have the funds to do so.
Did you spend money traveling to conferences?
Yes. We were invited to exhibit at PAX East by Kickstarter. We also exhibited at PAX Prime in the Indie Megabooth.
We worked hard preparing playable demos for both PAXes that got the game’s core into playable states that random gamers could try and give us feedback on.
Some people may argue that PAX is a waste of development funds for a Kickstarter project, but our team worked throughout the show and the feedback and advice we got from other developers and players during the show improved the game more than any other time in development.
Did you spend money travelling on other trips?
My other travel was by invitation and no Kickstarter money was spent on it. I was invited by THNK to visit Amsterdam for an all-expenses paid trip to teach a workshop for social entrepreneurs about making interactive storytelling gameplay. I was working on the content in Code Hero for the workshop already, and it was an opportunity to test it with real students.
What's the release schedule now?
We're releasing an interim Alpha 2 build right now. We'll put put up new builds each month when it is stable enough to do so.
The next major alpha milestone we're aiming for will tie the features that are in a raw state in the current builds into a form that teaches a complete class worth of material so that you can sit down, learn a bunch, apply it in-game, experiment, then download and install the Unity game engine and transfer the skills you've learned as much as possible to doing real game development and taking advantage of all the tutorials we've collected that exist to help you continue your learning.
We plan to have learning mode functional in May, and it becomes the first of the 3 major pieces we have to complete.
Part 2 is the gameplay for non-programmers who strictly want to have fun and learn a bit as they play. That's an important requirement to make the game work for gamers who aren't primarily motivated by learning, and it is what sets Code Hero apart from other approaches to learning. There are many methods of learning to code, but all require your motivation. As a game that delivers a really fun experience, Code Hero's gameplay can make learning to code something you do for fun in order to enjoy the game rather than requiring a ton of motivation. Almost everyone can learn to code if they'd enjoy it enough.
We plan to have fun mode functional in August.
Part 3 is to keep building up the editor tools so that people can not just start learning projects in Code Hero but that they can build games as close to the full functionality of the free version of Unity as possible and even export their projects to take them into Unity once they're ready and publish them on any platform and app store they want to.
We aim to have the game making and sharing mode functional by end of year.
This roadmap isn't set in stone yet and will change as we get more resources and volunteers and establish a clearer timeline for how long things are going to take. Our first priority though is to reach phase 1 where people can learn enough from Code Hero to get into coding and game development with Unity so individuals and schools can use it to jumpstart their code literacy learning.
This is a difficult time but we will get through it
This is an extremely difficult experience for any developer to go through, especially for it to happen to a project we care this much about, and we hope you'll bear with us as we continue to try to address people's questions and get on with building the game and showing what's in the works. We know this has been stressful for backers, and we're going to push through and get the game finished with or without additional funding.
Could you make Code Hero open source?
While we're big believers in open-source, there aren't many game companies we know of that make games as open-source. Games are more art and craft than code, and have asset workflows much more complex than pure software. It's something we aspire to be able to do eventually, but we're not going to go open source at this time. We've considered open-sourcing parts of Code Hero in the future. We're not ready to do that at this time, but we're open to suggestions and a discussion of ways it could work.
CODE HERO ALPHA 2 RELEASE
There's a lot of features in development that aren't polished or stable enough yet to go into playable builds of Code Hero. Here's some things you can find in the new game:
You can download Code Hero Alpha 2 now. (It may still be uploading, if so check back later)
What's new in Code Hero Alpha 2:
We're going to put out a more extensive post soon detailing things in Alpha 2 but here are a few things to look for:
Anyone can now try the beginning of Code Hero alpha without having to buy the game.
Eliza & AIML Chatbot AIs
We’ve got levels in development with talking AIs that you can talk to. We’re developing levels that teach you how to hack their code to make your own AI characters that can talk to you and each other.
Syntax highlighting & auto-indenting code editor
We've rewritten the Unityscript code text editor using a little known UnityEngine.TextEditor API class that allows the text editor to implement all of the features you need to write code well.
It now has syntax coloring, inserts tabs correctly and auto-indents new lines properly. Auto-complete and automatic API reference lookup is next to make writing code as fun for beginners and efficient for pros as possible.
We're going to try using it to edit Code Hero's own source code to eat our own dogfood and help expose all the features it should have to be a useful day-to-day code editor.