R.C. Extreme

R.C. Extreme is a simple racing game created in Unreal Engine.  A few years ago, I created a racing game that was never a completed game, so I decided to use this game as an opportunity to finally make a fully functional racing game.  I also wanted to work with Unreal Engine again, since it’s been a while since I have made a game in the Unreal Engine editor.

You can hear about the things that I learned with Unreal Engine on the July 2018 Knoxville Game Design show.

The game consists of four cars competing to finish in first place.  The player controls the red car, and must race around the loop for three laps.  There is a ramp half way through the track.  Be careful to not run off the track, as there is no way to recover.

The game takes advantage of the Unreal physics engine, so make the ramp jump and collisions with other cars appear realistic.  The game logic was created using the Blueprints visual scripting tool.  The cars models were created using Blender.  The game supports both keyboard and gamepad controls.

In a future release of the game, I would like to add additional tracks and a track editor.

R.C. Extreme - Title R.C. Extreme - starting line R.C. Extreme - jumping the ramp R.C. Extreme - finish line R.C. Extreme - making a turn


Created by Levi D. Smith
Released
Built with: Unreal Engine

SEO for Game Designers

First of all, I don’t claim to be an expert in SEO (search engine optimization), but I do know that there are things that can be done to improve your site’s ranking on the search engines.  I’ve been specifically researching how to improve SEO for game data.  Recently, I’ve had the problem of other sites pushing down my site in search engine rankings when doing searches for my games.  I decided to start working on driving more traffic to my game pages on my own site, instead relying on other sites to be the “homepage” of each of my games.

I’ve been doing some research over the past few days, and found that domain authority plays a big role when determining where your site appears in a search.  Your site may have superior content on a certain search topic, but it may not rank highly in a search if your site does not have a good domain authority value.

From what I’ve read, there are multiple factors that play a role in your site’s domain authority.  First is the age of the site or domain.  My levidsmith.com domain is 8 years old at the time of this writing, according to an online domain age checker.  However, the first domain that I ever used was gitcommand.com, which was my site when I was in college.  I recently reclaimed that domain, after letting it expire years ago.  According to the same tool, the age of that domain is 16 years 11 months old.  So I updated the DNS settings in my hosting account to do a 301 redirect for anything that lands on gitcommand.com to send the traffic to levidsmith.com.  Will this help search engine rankings?  Probably not since my old domain most likely gets zero traffic, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to have it redirect the traffic to my “new” domain.

SEO for games - Moz Open Site Explorer toolsThere is a good tool at Moz called the Open Site Explorer, which checks back links and gives your site an overall domain authority rating.  The free version only lets you see a limited number of sites in your link profile.  It isn’t the official source that search engines use to grade your site, but it provides a good picture of how your site scores.

Another factor is what is called back links.  Having links to your site from another site of higher domain authority will supposedly raise your site’s authority.  One problem I’ve had in the past is posting content to multiple sites.  For instance, I would post a game jam post mortem article on both my site, other game developer sites (which will remain nameless), and on the Ludum Dare site.  I always thought that if I posted a link back to the original article on my site at the top of the article, then my site would “get credit” for being the originator of the article.  However, from my research I’ve found that really isn’t correct.  Linking back to the original site may give my site some domain authority since it is getting a link from a site higher authority, but searches for my article will return the site of higher authority first.  On some search engines, it will only display the site of higher authority, and not show my site on the search results listings at all!  This is probably because the search engine thinks that my site is the one with the duplicate content.  So I’ve basically spent hours on an article that I’ve given away to another site for free.  That may not be a bad thing if you’re just starting out and want to get your name and content noticed, but I’m at the point where I’m finished giving away content and want the traffic directed directly to my site.  Supposedly, you can add a canonical link meta tag  to specify the originator site, but it only works when it’s located in the head tags, and most sites don’t give the user any ability to modify what’s in the head tags.

One option is to remove the duplicate content from the other site.  I’m assuming that this will result in a domain authority hit on my site, since I’m losing the back link.  However, this may not be so bad if the search engines think that my site has the duplicate content, which results in my site not being shown in the search results at all.  Hopefully if the search engine is smart enough, it will see the content gone from the other site, and then recognize my site as the true originator of the content.  The other option would be to remove the content from the other site, leave the link, and maybe just provide a snippet of the content.  Then just provide a link to “read more” at my site, and hope that the search engines rank the other site lower since a majority of the content is now missing on their site and still remains on my site.

Another factor that I didn’t know about is the linking text.  Apparently, having the text of the link match the search terms increases the likelihood of it showing up higher in the search results.  That’s a good reason to not just post plain link, where only the URL displays in the content.

SEO for games - IndieDB has high Domain AuthorityWhen I publish a new game to my site, there are a few sites that I use to create an online presence for my game.  Most of these sites provide the option to specify a back link to the game’s page on my site.

  • IndieDB – This site appears to have one of the highest domain authorities, and seems to be the IMDB of indie games.   I believe games previously had to be reviewed and approved to be included on IndieDB, but now it appears that games are approved by an automated process.  This site requires five screenshots and basic metadata for your game like genre and platforms.  I’ve noticed that when I post a game to IndieDB, it is included in some search engines within the hour after being posted, so it is crawled very frequently.  The content is also mirrored on ModDB, so your game may show up in searches on ModDB as well.
  • Unity Connect – This is another good place for posting your game.  It’s primarily for Unity games, but I think they allow all games, since there is a check box to specify whether or not your game was created with Unity.
  • Cartrdge – I was using this site when it first launched.  Back then, the site owners were very finicky about what content they allowed on the site.  I remember they deleted one of my games, because they said that their site was only for games that were in development.  However, it seems like they’ve  changed their policy and now allow all games.
  • Game Platforms – Probably the most important is having a link back to your site on the game platforms that are actually hosting your games.  Microsoft provides linking back to your game site from the game’s page.  This is something that can be easily missed, since it is not a required field.  Similarly, Google Play allows you to specify a link to the game’s page as well.  I don’t have games published on iOS, Playstation, or Nintendo, so I don’t know how their game pages work.

Here are some other sites that you can use as a game developer to build your site’s domain authority.  These are sites than rank highly when I search for myself (“Levi D Smith”) in search engines.

  • Channel Nine at MSDN – I’m still not sure what this site is supposed to be.  There are developer forums, shows, and events.  I think it’s supposed to be video service by Microsoft to provide updates to developers.  I created a profile on the site, which has a link back to my home domain.
  • CreateTN – This is only for artists in Tennessee, but appears to rank highly by search engines.  Unfortunately, it only allows links to their predefined social media sites.  It also asks for an address, which is will display on a map next to your profile, which seems a little intrusive.
  • Patreon – Having a Patreon site isn’t just for making money.  It will also help boost your site’s profile.  Be sure to put a link back to your site on your About you section, so that a link back to your site is on your front Patreon page.
  • Game Jam Sites – My profiles for the old Ludum Dare site and the new Dream Build Play site rank high in search results.  The Ludum Dare site link seems to no longer work, so it would be nice if they would 301 redirect the old author page to my profile on the new LDJam site.  The Dream Build Play site does not technically allow me to link to my site, but it does allow me to link to my developer diary, which is hosted on my site using the dream-build-play tag.  GM48 is another game jam that I’ve done a few times, and it allows linking back to my personal site on my developer page.
  • Game Hosting Sites – I primarily focus on Itch and GameJolt, and I have my site linked on my profile page on both sites.
  • Social Media Sites – Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube allow linking directly to my site.  I have not found a way to link to my site on LinkedIn yet, but I can put it in the text of my bio.  Tumblr doesn’t allow linking to my site in the profile, but I can put links to my games on my site in my posts.  Pinterest provides a way to validate your site to display a link on your Pinterest page.  YouTube also provides a way to validate your site, allowing you to create links directly to your site from a video Card or an End Screen Annotation.  I’m currently in the process of creating links to my game pages from the corresponding game videos on YouTube.  It’s a long monotonous process, but it seems like starting with my most popular videos (the ones that will get the most potential traffic) provides the best value.  A few days ago, I added a link to my Creating My First NES Game article from the End Screen Annotation for my Programming the Nintendo Entertainment System video, and I can already see some traffic coming to my site from the video.
  • GitHub – Provides linking back to my site on my profile.  I’ve put some of my projects that I’m fine with being public on GitHub.  However, I feel like I’m giving away traffic for my content again.  However, the hosting is free and I currently don’t have my own git repository on my site.
  • SoundCloud – A great site for hosting soundtracks for your games, and it provides a link back to your main site.  The only downside is that the free version only allows storage of about two hours worth of music, but that’s still a lot for free.  I’ve had difficultly building a following on SoundCloud, even though I regularly post my music to the site.  It seems like the only traffic I get is when I embed one of my game soundtracks into another site.
  • Reddit – I found that I can get lots of traffic on Reddit, especially with YouTube videos, but there can be backlash for not following “Reddiquette” so I try to promote my work sparingly.  I did create my own sub-reddit specifically for posting information about my games, but it doesn’t appear to get any traffic.

The big question that I have, is whether or not my site is negatively impacted if it links back to a site of higher authority.  I doesn’t seem like I would be losing any authority, but I could be validating that their site is the official game site.  I’ve heard that link position in the article is a factor, so I put my external links at the bottom of my game’s page.  That would make sense, as Wikipedia always places their external “See also” links at the bottom of the page.

Another thing I checked was old social media sites.  I had a Facebook page called Levi D. Smith Software, which is different from my primary Levi D. Smith Games page.  Facebook provides a tool to merge pages if the names or something are close enough, but for whatever reason Facebook couldn’t merge my two pages.  Therefore, I just set the former page to private so that traffic is no longer split between the two.  I also had a Google Plus business page called Levi D. Smith Software which was splitting views from my regular Google Plus page.  Apparently, I used up all of my tries for changing the name, so I just removed the page all together, so I can just focus on the personal page.

Supposedly page load speed also plays a factor in how well your site ranks.  The two sites that I use for testing my page speed are GTMetrix and WebPageTest.org.  I also use the WP Super Cache plugin for WordPress.  The plugin generates static HTML version of requested pages, but the page still has to be generated on the first access, unless the cache is preloaded.  I’m currently evaluating the settings for preloading the cache.  The first time I tried it, the plugin got hung during the cache generation.

To put it bluntly, some of my games just have bad names.  Two examples are Archaeology and Free the Frog.  My Archaeology game will never be found in a search result, unless someone specifically types “archaeology levi d smith”.  Free the Frog is bad because the word “the” is typically ignored, so it returns results for everything related to “free frog”.  On the other hand, search engines do take the URL into consideration, so it was a good decision when I made my custom Game content type in WordPress, so that every one of my games automatically contain the word “games” in the URL, in the format https://levidsmith/games/<game name>.

One issue with my SEO is that for many of my old accounts, I used my handle and gamertag, which is GaTechGrad.  If I had to do it over again, I would have made everything LeviDSmith, to avoid splitting the traffic between the two names.  Unfortunately, I’m not going to go back and recreate all those social media accounts at this point just to change the name.

Google Webmaster tools is good for seeing where your site ranks for given search terms, and how many people clicked on your site when it appeared in search results.  WordPress Jetpack statistics also shows how many people who have viewed your site and how they found your site.  Bing also has it’s own version of webmaster tools.

SEO for games - Search Engine Results for Blocks of NibiruEach search engine seems to be a little different.  Based on a search for my game Blocks of Nibiru, Google seems to favor IndieDB, Itch.io, and YouTube before listing the game on my site.  The same search on DuckDuckGo lists my site after YouTube and ModDB, but only if I put the search words in double quotes.  Witout the quotes, DuckDuckGo does not return my site at all.  However, it seems like DuckDuckGo’s results are very volatile, and the same search may return different results at different times.  Bing lists the game on ModDB first, then YouTube videos of the game, then IndieDB and Itch.io, but it does not list my site at all, unless I add “levi d smith”.  Bing seems to heavily favor domain authority, so it seems to be hard to appear in the search rankings unless your site is a part of a major corporation.  On the bright side, all of the search results are pages that I control, so I do have the ability to tweak the content on both my site and the other site.  Unfortunately, making changes may not effect the search results until the sites are crawled again, and it is nearly impossible to know when that will happen.

To ensure that search engines are crawling all of your content, it is important to specify a sitemap in the Bing or Google webmaster tools.  Sitemaps are used to give search engines essentially map of your site, which includes a list of all of the pages and media on your site, along with when each was last updated.

Adding links from the previously mentioned sites to your own domain probably won’t help increase your search rankings over night.  I believe the SEO for game rankings is improved by based on people visiting those sites first.  It’s all about creating the potential for people to click on the link to your site from those other sites.  Consistent branding and making a game that people want to see more plays a huge role as well.  I also suspect that money plays a role as well.  If you pay enough in ads, your game will pop to the top of the rankings.  However, most search engines will display a notice about which links are promoted.  Who knows, maybe I will write my own game search engine some day.

 

Thoughts on Momocon 2018

MomoCon 2018 wrapped up yesterday, and this was my first time attending multiple days.  For previous years, I had just driven down to Atlanta and back in a day, which can be fairly exhausting.

MomoCon program guide coverI stayed at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center for the entire length of my stay.  When I was working on my undergraduate degree at Georgia Tech, the entire Tech Square area was just slums.  It’s amazing how much it’s changed over the years.  The hotel was also a little less in cost compared against the hotels at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), where the MomoCon convention is held.  Unfortunately, there are not very many options to get over to GWCC from Tech Square.  On the first day, I tried walking to the North Avenue MARTA station and rode the train.  On my way back, I literally got death threats from the street ruffians while walking back to the hotel along North Avenue.  There were enough cars on the road and it was still daylight, so I was fairly confident that nothing bad would happen as long as I stayed quiet and kept walking, but it is an experience that I really don’t want to go through again.

On the first day of the convention which was Thursday, I attended the Professional Voice Acting panel, which featured the voice of Gohan on Dragon Ball Z, the voice of various Mortal Kombat characters, and the voice of Frylock on Aqua Teen Hunger Force.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember their names, but one of them said that he was on IMDB.  I also checked out the convention floor.  It seems like the convention is becoming more gaming focused, and less focused on anime and comics.  There is still a fair amount of cosplay.  I would say over a majority of the convention attendees were in costume.  The entire right side of the convention floor was completely gaming.  They moved the indie booths to the left side of the convention floor, with all of the other dealers.

On Friday, I found a great little pinball and arcade place called Portal Pinball Arcade in Kennesaw.  It was a pain getting there due to all of the Memorial Day traffic, but it was worth it.  The palce was sort of small, but it was packed with pinball machines both old and new.  They also had a few classic video game arcades like Street Fighter II.  You pay $8 for an hour, and the entire place is on free play.  There were about twenty pinball machines all together.  About four or five of those were the classic mechanical pinball games.  I tried to play each of them at least once.  My favorite was probably the cell phone pinball game, where it started taking your picture if you hit the correct targets, which was both creepy and cool at the same time.  I also played Medieval Madess and Total Nuclear Annihilation, which is also at Token Game Tavern in Knoxville, but it is always interesting to see how every machine is different with the video screen and physics.  Every machine seems to be balanced differently, so you’ve got to get a feel for each how machine plays.  I spent the rest of the day driving to the town where I grew up, and visited some relatives and drove around the old neighborhood.

Saturday was the day of the big Tekken 7 tournament.  There were over 90 entrants, which was almost double that of the Street Fighter tournament.  Usually, Street Fighter has been the more popular game.  I was lucky enough to be on the live stream for the very first match.  I did really well on my first match winning three straight rounds, but couldn’t get anything going again after that.  It was still fun participating, but everyone was in agreement that it could have been run better.  The guys running it did their best, but basically they just shouted gamertags over bullhorns to setup matches.  Not the best way to organize it with 90+ people.  Plus, each organizer seemed to be looking at a different bracket, which seemed to keep changing up until the tournament started.  I would have just put the smash.gg brackets on a big screen, and then had the table toppers display the corresponding letter of each matchup, so the players could just go to their assigned table and play their games.

I also attended the ID@XBox session on Saturday night, which was given by Sarah Cat Conde who is an XBox project manager.  When the ID@Box program started, I submitted two of my games, and they were both rejected.  I never gave XBox any more consideration until they started the Creator’s Program.  I’ve had success with getting two of my Unity games, Kitty’s Adventure  and Turn Back the Clocks 4, on the XBox One through the Creator’s Program.  Kitty’s Adventure currently has over 37,000 acquisition on the XBox One, although it is a free game so I haven’t made any money from it.  Sarah did say that good download statistics from the Creator’s Program would be taken into consideration for inclusion on ID@XBox.  Making games on the nights and weekend is something I just do for fun, so I don’t know if I will try pursing ID@XBox again.  I would probably just rather spend my time just working on making new games instead.

I had planned on attending the Indie Game awards showcase, but it was wrapping up by the time that I got there, so it seemed to be a very short event.  Although it was getting late, I went back and watched the finals of the Tekken 7 tournament.  Another problem with the tournament was that it was way too long.  It started at 4pm and didn’t wrap up until about 11:30pm, which was over 7 hours.  Earlier in the day, I attended Jojo’s Bizarre Trivia, which was fun, but seemed to be unorganized.  Although, some people are seriously experts about knowing everything Jojo related.

On the final day, I attended Gundam for Everyone, which was a nice overview of how to get into building Gundam robot models.  They also gave away quite a few kits in a raffle.  Then I attended Animation for a Living, which was a large panel of about six people, who did animation for a living.  There was a lot of good information for things like freelancing and how to get paid, which could be applied to any artistic related field.

OpenWorld concert at MomoCon 2018The last event that I attended was the OpenWorld concert.  It was their first time doing this performance.  The orchestra was a lot smaller than the Zelda concert that I attended in Knoxville a few months ago, but it was still enjoyable.  Sometimes I like the smaller orchestras better, since you can hear each individual instrument, but it is really noticeable when someone misses a note or the beat starts dragging.  They performed music from a wide variety of games, such as Sonic, Mario, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, Metal Gear, and Assassin’s Creed.  There was also a nice piano solo of a tune from Lost Odyssey, which was one of my favorite RPGs from the XBox 360.

Before I left, I checked out the convention floor one more time, and met Michael Hicks.  I remembered him from the XBLIG days and the XBox One developer forums.  It was nice to share stories about the old XNA days.  I also saw fellow Knoxville Game Design member Dylan Wolf at his booth playing one of his games!

NES dealerAs far as the convention floor goes, it seemed the same as usual.  It was strange that some of the indie game booths were there from previous years.  I liked the pachinko machines and I thought about playing, but I wasn’t going to stand in line.  There were a lot of arcade machines and about three pinball machines, but all of those had lines as well.  I checked out one of the dealer tables with classic NES games.  Some of the games that I own were selling there for over $1,000.  I’m not sure if that is the real collector’s rate for those games, but it does make me feel like collecting NES games was a good investment.

Overall, I thought MomoCon 2018 was a good convention.  It just seems like going to Atlanta is a huge hassle, especially on Memorial Day weekend.  I did talk to one of the organizers as I was walking back to the parking deck, and he said other people had raised issues about parking in downtown Atlanta.  It would be nice if they moved it somewhere like Gwinnett county, where it is less congested and safer.