- The State of things
So, we are still doing our thing, making some magic happen here and there! It’s been a tough few months, the Last Vikings did not make back its investment which kind of sucks. Hopefully over its lifetime it will finally get there, as we continue to get payments each month from it. The studio cost around 300K to run last year, and while we released some other games on 3DS during that period, their profits were pretty low, so I just throw all our dev costs at TLV to keep things easy to envision in my mind!
Equally this year, we have spent 1-2 months updating the Last Vikings, and those costs will be put against our newer games. It’s a super simplistic way of doing accounting, and isn’t in the least bit accurate, If we had some production muscle than I would actually start tracking people against projects and working our costs correctly, instead doing it this way is super basic, but helps give us some idea where we are going while not detracting from important development time.
This year we released Hiragana Pixel Party on Steam, while I expected to sell 18 copies (really that was my internal estimate) I hoped I would learn something from the experience. In general our experience with Steam was pretty good, it’s simple to do everything, and things are mostly under your control, which puts the experience from a publishing side somewhere between Android and Apple, but closer to publishing on the Google. How many did we sell? Well I think we are up to around 300 units, which made me pretty happy. Obviously this is barely profitable, if at all, but I see it as a fun experience, and a preparation for releasing The Last Vikings on the platform.
So all of that sounds doom and gloom, but it isn’t so bad, at least things are still bringing in money, and we still have our doors open. So what’s next!?
- Fishing Game:
Well remember our fishing game? Well that’s kind of ongoing, whenever there is nothing to do, the art team just start drawing things for it. I am not actively writing code for it, but I know one day I will jump in there and finish it up! Its super cool already, it just need that free to play model that will make it work.
- Civilization Clicker:
That isn’t its real name, but in January we started building an idle game to destroy all others! Its got a vast volume of art, and we are really happy with it. We got really far with it, and now it sits around 70% complete. We wont release it for a few more months…due to the next title:
- Campaign Clicker:
So I was walking home from teaching, and trying to think of a good name for “Civilization Clicker” and was just thinking of random words starting with C, and “Campaign Clicker” popped into my mind. I thought that’s cool, but it sounds more like an election game, wow…we should make an election game. So I suggested it to the team, and we said “yeah let’s make it in a week” which seemed all feasible and stuff. That was 5 weeks ago! But, on the plus side its very nearly done now. It’s super innovative, the design just came from the name really, and how epic the whole thing is over in the USA right now. So it’s a modified version of Civilization clicker, in Civilization clicker you take on jobs, so Campaign Clicker is essentially a whole game made from just one of those jobs.
What makes it interesting though is that it features live tweets from the candidates, and players can get their tweets into the game too, making it full of dynamic and current content. I don’t think anyone has done anything quite like that before so I am kind of excited about it. Also if you do well in the game your progress goes on to the online scoreboards, so people playing as Democrats can try to beat all the people playing as Republicans, which adds extra fun to the proceedings.
I like the fact that we are taking tweets and current events and showing them to people in the context of a game, I think some of the things people say come across as really hilarious when seen in isolation. So my hope is people will become more informed about the state of the political situation in the USA from playing this game. Also I hope we reach some players who might just be following the opinions of their peers, and not taking the time to understand for themselves the main points of each of the candidates.
Obviously I am English, USA politics is not something I can comment on. In fact, I don’t feel right commenting on politics anywhere, I don’t feel like I have enough information to have a valid opinion on any current affairs, sure ask me about tax for games companies and I can say something, but even in that instance I feel I don’t understand the tax of the industrial sector as a whole, so I can only say “Yeah it’s hard to make money, don’t tax me” which is very self-centred and myopic.
What I do love about politics is the show, it’s all about who can get everyone’s emotions running the highest, and reach into the heart of the voter rather than the mind. Why else would we have campaign songs, or focal memes, the fact that Bernie sanders can seem more appealing because a bird landed on his podium is just so far from the point of what it’s actually all about. But I can’t help but be affected, the picture of an friendly old guy who is loved by the animals, and seems like as estranged grandfather I never had is just lovely, but what has it got to do with his message? Very little! So, my hope is that the game helps distance people ever so slightly from the show, and brings their focus to the messages and intentions of the candidates and parties they intend to support.
So when is Campaign clicker out? Hopefully very soon on iOS and Android
Expect an update soon on some other projects we have going on!
So, our games have a lot of text. Why do I do it? Well firstly I think it adds character to the game and helps build a universe. Having someone talk about the things they believe or have done in the past without needing to show it is a great way of fleshing out our universe.
Secondly I think so many games are all corporate and straight to the point, they have no soul and feel very direct about their objective, play the game, enter the loop to level up and give us your money. I want to build worlds that are enjoyable to explore, and characters that are memorable in their own right. I also remember working with big companies like Lucasarts and EA, and text volume is a huge thing, as is what you write, it has to go through a lot of processes that eventually water down the content to such a degree that it becomes meaningless generic game stuff, “Look at that bad dude, he is bad so let’s defeat him” or “Here is an inoffensive joke suitable for everyone and guaranteed not to offend”. So I enjoy the fact that not having any form of editorial between what I write and what goes onto the screen allows our games to be more expressive that the majority of what is out there.
Another reason is that I feel it’s good to make some commentary on some of the things that happen on our planet. So putting characters in to our games that have characteristics or opinions about these issues allows me (and players) to explore some issues from alternate points of view. Take for example “Toad Boss” from the last Vikings, he is an overly pushy vegan, he says things like:
“TOADINGHAM, HAS BOTH TOAD AND HAM IN THE NAME. I AM VEGETARIAN AND I DON’T EAT HAM OR TOADS, BUT I HAVE MADE SOME VERY GOOD VEGAN ALTERNATIVES WITH THE MANY TYPES OF MUSHROOM THAT GROW HERE, AND I WILL DEFEND THEM UNTIL THE END! PREPARE TO FIGHT!“
“THIS IS TOADINGHAM, HOME OF ME! I COMMAND THE TOADINGHAM ARMY, AND WE WILL REPEL YOU, EVEN IF THIS VILLAGE WAS RIGHTFULLY YOURS! I RULE THIS PLACE NOW, AND SUBJECT MY SUBJECTS TO A LIFE OF VEGANISM WHETHER THEY LIKE IT OR NOT! REMEMBER PIGS ARE FRIENDS, NOT FOOD!”
Toadboss has this opinion that is kind of preachy and annoying, he even seems to force his people to be vegans which isn’t particularly cool.
If I put myself in the mind of a player, I might think veganism is stupid, and want to defeat this guy as fast as possible, equally if I am someone who disagrees with using animals for food, I might see him as a conflicted hero, he goes about things in the wrong way but ultimately has a good intention.
It’s these deeper ideas that I use that make me hope some of the characters have a depth uncommon in a lot of games. I don’t want to make a game that’s full of opinions and social commentary, first and foremost our games and exactly that, fun games. But after 20 hours of seeing the same characters over and over, it’s nice to see “Generic Spider Boss” as someone who has a bit more depth than just being a sprite on the screen. And while most people don’t event read the text, those that do hopefully find it funny, and in some cases surprisingly thoughtful.
The core idea is that by having characters that have their own opinions we can present ideas from both sides of the argument. So far I have covered all kinds of subjects from taxation, racism, sexism, greed, corporate growth, wasteful consumerism, games companies not shipping products, to why there are bugs in our games.
Recently someone commented in a google play review for our game: “As a woman, the things that the chick in the options menu says makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I should be offended or not. Remove or rewrite her and I’ll give it a 5 star”. This comment inspired me to write this blog, so I will write for a while about sexism in games, and sexism in our game.
So when it came to writing the options lady I came to the realisation that we had mainly been focusing on male white Vikings dudes, as they are the atypical people players would expect to meet in such a game. While we have added a lot of women and some non-white Vikings this is something that is a fairly interesting issue. I don’t want to go too deep into it, but in design there is clearly a balance between what people expect to see and your own design contribution to make it unique. It’s seen a lot in science fiction design theory and other things like the way Disney approach character development. Essentially this is how it works, when you think of a Viking, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Yes – it’s a white guy with a horned hat and probably a big beard. In a game about Vikings, if half of them are women, and half of them are non-white how does that make players feel? On a subconscious level (if not a conscious one) it probably makes think that this game is not a very authentic Viking experience.
I don’t want to be a person who hides behind the excuse that just because it’s what everyone else does, I should do it too, but I have to run a business at the same time as makes things I feel comfortable with. Obviously there are countless commentaries on the videogame industry pointing out that 99% of heroes in games are white men in their mid-thirties, and then in some cases (the last of us) the strong female roles are made into less pronounced characters in the games marketing assets so as to not break with expectation of what an action game should be.
I find it interesting that we have ended up with an industry so apparently racist and sexist, but does it mean that all videogame consumers are in fact racist sexist idiots? Well no I don’t think it’s that simple, I think it’s partially down to what people expect. If we go back to the question of “what does a typical Viking look like”, we can ask the same question again “what does a typical videogame hero look like” Sadly the answer is a white guy in his mid-thirties with a stubble, probably holding a gun, look at action movie posters, look at books it isn’t just games that are impacted by this. From a business standpoint it’s important that consumers understand what they are buying from the moment they see it, but that doesn’t make it right.
So what can I do? Well I always make a point to try and strike a balance between what people expect, and what we can do to surprise them. Our next game has many King type characters, but the remit for the art was that they are all asexual, no king should particularly look male or female. That was the idea, in some cases they ended up looking more one way or the other but being a small company I don’t have the money to go back and redo things just for the sake of our morals, but it’s important to note that the intention is there.
So back to the options lady, most the things she says are jokes about heavy metal, or the fact that there is an options screen, she does however say the following:
“I AM NOI A FEMENIST, BUT I THINK THIS TOWN HAS WAY TOO MANY MEN, I THINK ODIN IS DISCRIMINATING”
“IF I WERE A MAN, I WOULD MAKE THIS GAME EVEN MORE GENDER SPECIFIC THAN IT ALREADY IS, I CAN DO ANYTHING A MAN CAN, SO WHY AM I LOCKED UP IN THIS OPTIONS SCREEN”.
Perhaps what I was trying to say got lost in the way I wrote it, but the intention was that she is making a commentary on the lack of female characters inside the town, and that the game is unfortunately more gender specific than is cool. It’s funny because it’s a direct result of the “what’s the first thing that comes to mind” questions I talked about before. I feel I can only break so many conventions per game, before I break the universe I am trying to create in player’s minds. So the options lady, is intended to be a self -aware moment inside the game that we have fallen prey of the expectations of society by making our game not gender and race neutral. I am not happy about it, but it’s a balance I have to consider all the time.
I think this blog post makes our games seem like they are full of politics and opinions, the vast majority of “The Last Vikings” 3000+ lines of dialogue focus on the game, and the characters inside it. First and foremost we make games that set out to be just that, fun and entertaining ways of enjoying yourself.
Oh My GOD!!! we have been developing a game for no more than a week, and I have decided to announce it to the world! why would I do this? it’s so that I don’t get lost in my own stupidity, and we actually finish the thing in a more reasonable time frame than normal.
I realise, I don’t really need to be secretive about things any more, a while ago we were working with Kongregate, and while it’s mainly a formality, there was an NDA in place, so I thought I should keep my progress to myself. Well that’s no fun right!
Firstly – we are still working on The Last Vikings, so why am I doing another game!? well the artwork is pretty much complete in The Last Vikings, and I want people in the company to be useful and not get bored, so my plan is to get one (possibly two) games started, that focus more on art than code. The idea is that I get the basic game up and running, and then hand the project over to Shuyun and Cindy, who then do their magic with the art, while I get back to working on the boss battles for the Last Vikings!
It’s very important to me that people have valuable work to do, I remember sooo many times in my career when I would just sit at my desk waiting for someone to pick a direction for the team to move in. This is pretty much what usually get’s said to the team in these situations: “we haven’t decided on the strategy for our next product (or are waiting to sign a project with a publisher), so you and the team can take it easy, brushing up on your skills while we work with marketing to determine what to do next”. In this situation, I would rather sit at home and work on my own games, or even sit at home and play some other peoples game, anything is better that sitting there waiting for people to decide what to do, while watching my life drift past me in a blur of organic mortality based cellular degradation. I always felt that every day we sat there was a waste of company money, but worse yet, a wasted opportunity to make something. This happens is game studios a lot more than you might realise! it’s one of the reasons that I am not at a big game studio any more. Having the ability to make quick decisions, and pick a direction with the people around you in the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee makes for a pretty efficient production process.
So how did it all start, we were tossing around ideas for games a while back and suggesting simple ideas. Cindy suggested a fishing game where you sit on an island and fish, that’s it. We didn’t really talk much more about it after that, we didn’t even decide on a mechanic, but the image really stuck with me, and I guess it rolled around in my mind for a long time.
The thing is there are some problems with making a fishing game,
1 – Theme, it’s fishing, not many people like fishing. I for one don’t like killing things, so I know this game isn’t going to focus on killing things…. but how will the consumer know? and not just think “that’s a boring fishing game…fishing games is suckkkkksss”.
2 – It being a small game, how can it possibly make money!? we can all hope that we get lucky like Flappy bird, but I know it;s very hard to retain in casual gamers, and even harder to monetize up to the point where you will be able to afford any user acquisition.
A couple of months ago, I came up with a structure for the game that seemed to make sense one night while walking back from my part time teaching job at Digipen, I messaged Cindy, and she didn’t hate it, so that was a good start, seeing as the game was her suggestion, I want her to actually have faith in what we end up doing with it!
Solving point two is hopefully not so hard, by adding just enough RPG elements to make it feel deep, but not so much that it ends up taking us a year to make, I think we can make something pretty unique, fun and engaging. Point number one is harder to overcome, but I am still super excited about the game, so screw it! We hope that so long as we make it clear that it isn’t a normal fishing game from the start, that people will not be put off by the theme, that said we know it’s a risk, which doubles our commitment to finishing it extra fast!
One day last week we finally had a design meeting, to thrash out what the game would be in detail. I am pretty difficult to work with sometimes, as I tend to formulate huge parts of a game in my mind, and kind of know what I want to do before I even enter a discussion! it’s tricky, I spend all my time thinking about games, so when it comes to having to wait for the right time to discuss it, I have usually gone through a whole host of options before hand. While this can be annoying for people, what it usually ends up in is a huge sanity check discussion, where I say all this stuff at everyone, and then they try to tell me why I am wrong. Every time we have these discussions something get’s changed that I thought was already the greatest solution and couldn’t possibly be influenced by anyone or anything. In the case of the fishing game, we discussed it for a pretty long time, and as I answered everyone’s questions the game got more and more convoluted, I knew I wanted something simple, but also something with depth and piles of secrets. For example, swipe fast to cast the line out further, or swipe slow to cast it into shallow water. I assumed that like being able to jump different heights in Mario, people would just figure this out. There was some resistance to this, in that modern mobile games have lost a lot of that sense of discovery. While I still don’t think I was especially right or wrong in that case, it was in the context of the discussion an example that I was getting bogged down in the complexities of what I wanted out of the game, and as a result was perhaps getting away from the core. After an exasperated Cindy looked like she was giving up the will to live, I suggested another angle for the game that addressed her concerns, and kept me happy at the same time. So in this case, our deep discussion that must have lasted 2 hours actually lead to a whole new design flow being put together that simply wouldn’t have happened without a bit of disagreement and heated discussion.
My goal is to get the game working as fast as possible, so Cindy and Shuyun can take over and just drop lots of art in. The game is designed to be art heavy, rather than code heavy, so I had to go for it and get everything up kind of fast.
Last weekend I went to the Philippines for a conference, but I still found time to write code, when I got back to Singapore the project was working, and there was a really non-fun version of the casting mechanic. We now have the beginings of a UI, a collection viewer and a lot of other stuff…Thanks to Shuyun, the ui ended up being housed in the fishing guys phone.
It has a story, you are a guy (called joseph for now) who washed up on an island, you are wearing a suit, it’s pretty clear to the player that they have to do fishing…as you fish you get food, but more importantly you discover things about your previous life…the Sea in the real world is full of garbage, so in the game, we are going to catch more garbage than fish! is there a correlation between the business guy and the garbage….well it’s probably not hard to guess…
The great thing about starting new games, is you can make crap loads of progress at the start in a seemingly short time..just look at this!
So I wish I had a bit more time to write about the trials and tribulations of developing it! but I don’t…so this will be quick!
our company engaged in some work for hire, which was kind of not suppossed to be work for hire, we made a collection of minigames to celebrate the Singapore 50th birthday, one of which was about dragon boating. What was great was that we got to make whatever we wanted, what wasn’t so great was that the project ended up getting cancelled! In reality I was relieved that we could return to focusing on what we do best which is making our own games with no other agenda. But was sad about a host of other things, the games we made were actually fun, and the people who worked on them (me included) were kind of attached to them. By this time, Springloaded had swelled to the vast size of 15 people! yes, there were 15 of us! some were part time, some were interns, but I was still burning through 45K a month on salaries! So, with cancelled projects, comes less income, less income means less employees, so in what seems like an eternity ago now, we had to figure out how to proceed, Lydia who works with us, but deals with things such as the bank balance, told me how severe it all was, and while I listened, I kind of stowed away what she was saying in to the back of my brain, and thought if I hid it well enough in my subconscious the issues we were facing would simply cease to exist! Obviously, eventually things had to give, so with a heavy heart I told everyone how we had no money, and how shitty everything really was. They probably don’t know, but I was kind of having an out of body experience as I said the words to people, and then when the gravity of what I was saying hit me on occasion, I nearly lost it, and started spraying water out of my eyes like those giant water canons they use to suppress riots. After such a crap-house of an experience, we reduced our size to around 8 or so people, to focus on finishing up our 3DS games, and getting our next mobile game to market.
Here is a screen shot, of the MIA – you wont get to play – Dragon boat game.
With the games cancelled, and them actually causing us some deficit, we really had no time to sit around and get depressed, there were games to make! for most of January, I actually spent all my time working on the 3DS version of heart beaten, because it seemed to me like a dumb stupid project that would be a lot of fun to make. I wrote the game code, while Paul worked on getting it on to the 3DS with some help from Alan here and there, Cindy did art to fill out the holes where my art was too shitty, There was simply never going to be any possibility of me drawing something like this (although I think CIndy did it in half a day or something crazy):
Heart beaten was intended to launch on Feb14th, but it was delayed due to us messing up the submission documents, so it came out a while later. What’s great about being an indie dev? well the night before submission ,Paul said that one of the game modes sucked, and he was right. So I accepted the challenge of writing a brand new duck hunt inspired game before the next morning. I started at something like 10PM, but got it done just before the sun came up. Astoundingly it was pretty much bug free, and we submitted the game on time. In any sane company, you would be told to not do something like that as it’s too risky! it turns out there was a pretty big bug in the game, but we missed it! In one of the modes, you can play forever, and you will never die, unless you die of boredom! you have to be above a certain skill level to do it, but once you are the difficulty stops increasing, and it just becomes a repetitive slog, with no goal! .I was pretty amused with the game, it is unpleasant and stupid, and I guess its clearly not a mainstream product! The theme is that you play a series of different women, who take turns in dumping the games hero, and then destroy his heart with graphic violence! I think my favourite mode could be the R-Type inspired one, (which somehow I drew, and didn’t make ugly), but probably it’s the final stage that’s really the best, seeing as it forces you to play two games, one on each screen at the same time, It’s supposed to represent that you the player have actually found some kind of love in your life, and now you have to protect two hearts, as you are no longer alone. Awwww…. many people thought the game would be cute, and were horrified to be faces with a blood soaked screen. Suffice to say, I didn’t even try to release it in Germany.
So after making 2 3DS games, we decided to take a break, and wait and see what happened as far as finances were concerned, while we waited I got back to working on the Last Vikings. The game was intended to be a small product, built ontop of the singapore game “Dragon boat”, re-skin it, refine the design a little, and add some cool polish so we could release it fast! Well, I am a bit stupid, in the end I think only about 50 lines of code from the original game actually made it across to the new one! the main mechanic was scraped and done again from scratch, the combat mechanic was added, and we added a small town hub,
We actually got the game up and running unbelievably quickly, I think it probably took about one months work to get it into a good state, As we were winding down the team size, a lot of people got to have a small go at something or other, When we stopped to look at the game, we realised it was actually a lot of fun, and then we started realising we could turn it into a fully fledged RPG, adding a story, a huge battle mode, multi-player and everything else you might expect!
So now here we are it’s almost the end of the year, I am sitting in our new office (because we had to leave our awesome free one behind), looking at a game that was expected to take three months, actually taking 9! You could say it was bad planning, but really it was just making the game into something bigger and better than was originally anticipated. We went from making a small game that might sit better alongside an endless runner than an RPG, to a product that has aspiration of competing with top grossing iOS titles!
I will be honest, it’s still not there yet! we are still adding little bits here and there, but now we are ,ostly waiting on the sales data and metrics from the territories we have the game out in already.
I couldn’t be happier with the game, it’s probably the best game I have made so far in my life! but on the flip side of that I can still see a million ways to improve it!
So what’s next? well we submitted our global launch candidate to Apple today, and are now just figuring out whether or not that really will be “the one”. if the game doesn’t do well, then things will get pretty dark for us! As a result, I started writing not one, but two new games over the weekend! much like “The Last Vikings” was supposed to be, these games are super small, and should be done within record time! we will see if that actually happens! but in this case, we have learned a load more about making games in the last year, I think as a studio we are ready to really start delivering on the stuff I always think we are capable of. Hopefully, Vikings is the first chapter in what will be a super victorious 2016 for us! While some of that is down to luck, I think by working as crazy hard as we have (and continue to), means that we have a good chance of making our own luck!
Today we release ‘Space Lift Danger Panic!’ for 3DS! It’s available right now on the USA eshop for $2.99, and should come to Europe in about 1 month.
If I look back on my career as a game developer, this is a pretty huge milestone for me, and something I never really expected I would achieve outside of the framework of a corporation.
I guess to a lot of people, releasing a game on 3DS might seem like not such a big deal, but to me it’s up there as a huge life goal!
I guess to understand why I feel like this, I’ll have to explain my whole history of games…you might want to stop reading now, and just go to the eShop and buy our game, rather than read this slightly narcissistic pile of words.
Anyway, before I started trying to actually understand game development, the idea of building a game was like magic to me. It’s one of those things that was so mysterious I didn’t have even the slightest idea of how you would do anything at all that contributed to making a game.
Eventually through a huge volume of hard work I started to figure out some stuff, and through the luck of the gods, I landed a job at Full Fat in the UK. The first released game I worked on was Dave Mirra BMX2 on the Gameboy advance.
This was in 1999, I entered the office with an open mouth, in awe of the AGB development kit that sat on the lead engineer’s desk. This was one of the early “wideboy” kits ( http://www.nesworld.com/n64-wideboyagb-1.php ) this was essentially an N64, torn wide open with wires flowing from every corner and fragile circuit boards sticking out the top. For me, I felt like I was entering some super-secret club, and being given the luxury of playing with prototype hardware that barely anyone in the world had been able to get close to.
Eventually we got the actual dev kits, which still had a few fragile wires sticking out of the, but they were essentially production GBA units stuck to giant boxes. They were luminescent pink, and made of slightly different plastic to the ones that were finally released to the public. So to me they were still very special things, and they were as far as I could tell kind of expensive, which is why I was never allowed one on my desk! Only programmers had them, and Id go over and test my work at a programmer’s desk, before running back to my seat and using an emulator or something to try and figure out how the game worked.
Our compamy mainly made games for GBA, and I think while I was there I worked on a crazy volume of games for the system (to my memory it was 18) including:
Dave Mirra BMX2
The Land Before Time
Dave Mirra BMX 3
BeyBlade Ultimate Blader Jam
The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
Rock em sock em robots (the worst rated game ever in the history of the GBA!)
Pacman world 2
Ms Pacman Maze Madness
Sim City Advance
Punch King (which was about as stereotypical a game you can imagine…I kind of felt it was maybe a little racist at the time we were making it!)
Freakstyle (EA Big)
Aggressive inline skating
There were actually a few more than that, I just can’t remember them all right now.
But seeing our games in the store, was pretty spectacular!
We went on to the DS, and I worked on several more games including the Sims, Sega Darts and a Biker Mice From Mars game, that features me doing some really terrible sound effects as I try to impersonate cats getting punched in the face.
DS was also really exciting, back then a touch screen was actually pretty cutting edge as far as gaming was concerned. Remember, the iPhone didn’t yet exist, so for me when I got to design games for touch screen it was like entering uncharted territories! And trying to figure out how to use two screens was also a super interesting challenge.
The first DS dev kit we got was even more crazy than the GBA one we had before, it was just a bare circuit board with a single screen on it. The lead engineer who was using it tried to build a housing out of cardboard with a hole in to show the screen (which wasn’t even a touch screen!).
Console development has always been so much harder than PC development, or mobile dev. All my formative years of game development were spent working on Nintendo systems. And when we were at Lucasarts I was lucky enough to work on the Wii-U for a while before the console got released, ultimately the project was cancelled, but getting my hands on pre-release hardware was once again unbelievably exciting. Most of my fondest memories of game development (and playing games) are deeply entwined with Nintendo, which is why making a nintendo game now, feels like going full circle, in a time when mobile is king.
So I think this is the 33rd shipped console game I have worked on,and the 40th game I have shipped when including mobile! The amazing thing is that out of those 33 consoles games, only 4 were on consoles not made by Nintendo! So this is my 29th Nintendo game! Which is pretty crazy.
So this achievement is amazing for a couple of reasons, firstly, I never imagined I could get through the hoops to become a registered Nintendo developer, and then secondly, being a programmer who only knows how to use C#, I imagines that getting something on the C++ only 3DS would be impossible. For that, I can thank my colleagues at Springloaded (paul and Alan) for building a semi cross platform solution that allows my code to run on the console.
I may have made a lot of games on Nintendo systems, but I never even for a moment thought it was in the realms of possibility that I would be able to do it in my own company! But here I am ticking off a very satisfying life achievement!!
I have no idea whether doing this was a good business decision or not, bit I guess in the next couple of months we will find out! I really hope that it is a viable market that we can do well in, and we will only know for sure by making a few things and not giving up too soon!
So what is net, well we hope to launch heart beaten on the 3DS in February, for which I rewrote the game from the ground up especially for 3DS, (although we may do a Vita version too), then after that we plan to just carry on making stuff….2015 is going to be pretty crazy for us! We are trying to do an insane volume of stuff, which is as rewarding as it is challenging.
So what’s it like running a company? Pretty horrible, and pretty amazing all at the same time, on the horrible front, the dreaded burn rate comes to mind, How much does the company need to continue paying everyone, right now we need to generate about $1000 a day to break even on staff salaries. Which is pretty hard seeing as we only have one game out there shifting units, thanks go to Kongregate as they are helping us push the game all over the place, but we are seeing the game in decline overall, so we need something new and exciting!
My somewhat crazy approach to all this is to try and build as many revenue streams as possible, and hope that something surprises us along the way! Which is part of why everything is so much fun, we are currently developing six games! And a lot of those are multiplatform…which makes things even crazier!
It just means we have lot’s of new and exciting challenges every day, whether it be working out how to make a 3D banner icon for 3DS, or working through the horrors of server client coding for mobile, there is never a shortage of interesting challenges around.
Obviously some people say I should focus on one thing, but if I do that and that one thing fails, then we are over, so by taking this approach we struggle a lot now, and hopefully find some kind of stability in the near future! I don’t deny that trying to manage so many projects / people is a daunting task especially when I still have my own code to write, oh and I also teach on Thursday nights! So I am a bit crushed by it all right now, but we will hopefully see things cool down by the end of January…(which is also when I think we run out of money, unless one of those new revenue streams kicks in!)
I must say I hate thinking about money, or company stuff, I just want to make games, that’s what I am good at, but I have to spend precious time doing things that aren’t that, like working through tax issues, getting localization or arranging staff parties! Thankfully I sometimes delegate this stuff to other people, and what makes this easier is that now one of our 11 people is a one day a week magi-queen of filling in forms and helping manage our corporate affairs! I wish she had started months ago, but after only 2 weeks she has already done great stuff like apply for a new office and set up digital staff levy payment.
OK so we are making all these games, what are they!
1 – Space Lift – 3DS / PSVita: we are about finished with Space Lift Danger Panic on the 3DS, which means we will start the Vita version some time next week (providing the GPP gets approved by Sony)
2 – Warmachines iOS / Android / Web: we still don’t have a final name for this game, but it’s our huge mobile game that makes Tiny Dice Dungeon seem like a small and simple project! It’s finally reaching a stage where it’s playable as we are throwing everything we have at this thing!! I must say the art work Cindy has done is fucking magnificent.
3 – Hiragana Pixel Party – Xbox One / PS4 / PSVita / Steam / 3DS / Wii-U: this pur test run game, we will launch it on everything, and learn about the process of releasing a game on all these different platforms, and see how things turn out. Once out, we will start making something a lot bigger for consoles, we have it running on everything except Playstation right now, but we are only waiting for a software license from Sony, and once we get that everything should be pretty easy. We are also doing a kickstarter for this, which has been a pretty interesting and not to great an experience so far!
4 – Tiny Dice Dungeon Web / iOS / Android, obviously we continue to poke away at this game, adding new monsters and stuff, I feel like I could have done o much better with the deign and flow of this game, I really hope one day we get to revisit it for a sequel!
5 – SG50: Ios/Android, I am not sure if I am allowed to talk about this, but we are making a prototype of a game for the government! It’s hopefully going to be a super fun pixel art adventure set around Singapore, to celebrate the Singapore’s 50th birthday. The way it works is that we get some money to help develop the prototype for the end of January, and if it’s gopd enough we get selected to make the game in to a full project and release it at the end of July, it’s a lot of work, and unbelievably, I am actually pretty excited about doing it! Obviously working on something like this is pretty weird for us…as it sounds super corporate, but rest assured, our game will be pretty far from what other people might expect.
6 – Atomic Test Pilot: 3DS / Vita, I am the only one working on this right now, as I am just tidying up the PC code to make it have more content and work on two screens…but we should start production in a week or so, and I am targeting a 4 week turn around to submitting to Nintendo, we might actually make Nuclien instead first…we will decide next week I guess!
So there you have it, and insane volume of work, for such a small company, it goes without saying that to achieve all this everyone has to be exceptional in their roles, and I ave to do some super-ultra-project management. Right now we are drifting behind on a lot of our milestones, so I need to try and get us back on track….anyway wish us luck!
It’s been about a year since I wrote anything on this blog…so I should probably do an update! The longer it gets, the more epic I think my return to posting should be….
But I don’t think anyone wants me to write a book length post about every tiny detail related to finding a publisher and starting a company.
So I will keep it brief…here we go in quick fire bullet points. Speed Metal Style…let’s do the whole history of everything from the start until now…
1 – Leave job as lead designer at lucasarts after well over a decade of having a job designing games….and go indie.
2 – Do some coding, I am a designer not a coder, but I somehow make 5 games on iOS:
- Hiragana Pixel Party
- Space Lift Danger Panic
- Atomic Test Pilot
- Heart Beaten
3 – Get two part time jobs, being a designer on a serious game, and a game design teacher, essentially they both form a full time job, but somehow I still found the time to make some games..
4 – Realised that my part-time full-time work status meant that I wasn’t really getting anything ambitious done, so I took a step back and started making an amazingly huge epic game of epicness….set in space.
5 – At the end of February I took a few days off my epic space game to make a mini game jam game on my own…I just wanted to release something new before I got back to the big game. 4 days later I had a prototype…but not a game ready for shipping. I was now double screwed, as I had two giant games. I called the new game Tiny Dice dungeon, and decided I could finish it in a few weeks.
6- In May Casual Connect came to Singapore, I got some free tickets and the chance to demo my game to publishers….Gasp!!! my little game was popular, I wasted no time in signing with Kongregate, because among other things they liked Pixel art.
7 – it took a couple of months to get the contract worked out…I had to start a company, because for legal reasons Kongregate (or probably any publisher) aren’t going to engage in business with just me. (epic space game collects dust)
8 – Employed Cindy, and Chiny, Cindy helped balance the game, and eventually started drawing better art than me and become a vital part of the games development. while Chiny helped part time with networking. (as in network coding, not hanging out and getting drunk with strangers)
9 – Interns came and went, Chiny went, Eggone came and took over the network stuff, and a few other technical things and dwarfed me with his giant brain…I also eventually stopped teaching, making Springloaded my only job (even though it’s one I wasn’t being paid for)!
10 – we launched to test markets in November (I think!? which was a little later than originally scheduled) and the game did OK, we got around 30K users, and the game showed potential…so our mighty publisher suggested we spend more time on it…(we felt we could spend a lot more time on it!)
11 – Sam Barnard joined the company, and shares the same name as my sister, but is a man not a girl, and is not related to me in anyway (as far as I know).
12 – The game got selected for the showcase at PaxEast, so me and Cindy went to Boston.
13 – Tiny dice came out globally in April on iOS, got a feature and landed well over half a million downloads.
14 – The game came out in May on Android…(later than we planned)…and that is where we are!!! Kongregate have been a massive part of getting us here, and this is hopefully only the beginning!
Obviously that is the story of Tiny Dice Dungeon….other things that happened include:
1 – Became a licensed Nintendo developer
2 – Started making a brand new game for Wii-U, but eventually put it on hold as we were too busy.
3 – Became a Playstation developer, and started planning the future….
4 – Signed some contracts with Microsoft….
5 – Got a new team, the Console team! A dynamic duo who are focusing on taking our games to console.
6 – Started a new mobile game….
7 – Had a new hire, Tommy, who started on coding playable web things…(it is currently his second week)
There are now 9 of us here, although there aren’t actually enough desks for us all…so that makes things pretty crazy. As you can imagine we have more work flapping around us like suffocating fish than we know what to do with, so I haven’t really been updating my blog, it’s just work all the way!
While I started as a full on solo indie developer, the company has kind of become a real company, and the people that work here are as much a part of any game as I am. I am forever in debt to the folks that felt it was worth jumping in working with me, from publishers to developers…while it is far from easy, and even further from smooth sailing, it’s a pretty amazing / exciting spot to be in.
I will try and write some more interesting things on this blog in the near future, however, I probably can’t be as open as I used to be. Before I was just writing about my own ups and downs, but now there are other people involved I don’t feel it’s fair to say anything about them seeing as they aren’t writing it themselves…but I am sure I will still have things you can find interesting….