Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part VII)

Like I hinted at in the last post, I'd make this one brief by comparison. Honestly, there wasn't much that happened after the Mayan Mystery was released. The changes to the game's performance and gamepad support were included, and it seemed like the interest was pretty much non-existent going forward.
At the time, there was an Adventure Apes website that I used as a more direct way for people to get the game (it was still available on Desura and a couple other smaller sites). I kept it running, even though I hadn't done anything new with it in ages.
My intention was to make the website kind of a hub for different things relating to the Adventure Apes. It would have been awesome to have some fun t-shirt designs or other merchandise that people could purchase through there, but I couldn't find enough time to work on all that kind of stuff between a day job and family things at the time.
On the game development side, a lot had changed. I was feeling totally burned out from making the Mayan Mystery, but wanted to keep pushing to get something new out there. There were a ton of ideas floating around in my head, and a bunch of them were started, ballooned into things that became unmanageable, and then dropped.
The storyline is that the Adventure Apes end up in space (specifically Europa) after the Mayan Mystery, so I explored all kinds of possibilities as minigames etc, but never really loved any of them.

Early concept for a sequel.


Galactic Gladiator:  A single screen arena fighter

 Otis in Orbit: A physics-based shmup thinger. Never really got off the ground with this one.

A map I had set up for Galactic Gladiator. Stages were only revealed as you make progress. I'm still happy with the Super Mario Bros 3 type functionality of it!

A smartphone minigame attempt where you tried to discover and document as many creatures in Europa's ocean without running out of fuel.

  Opening screen for the game above. I like the movie poster quality the layout has :)

I tried a few times to partner up with people who were much better programmers than me, but those fell through too. It's hard to find the time to finish a game when you're doing it in your spare time!

Descent to Atlantis: Kind of like an underwater treasure hunt!


Jarhead: This was to be a side-scrolling jump'n'gun type thing. Simple, but lots of fun!

For a while, I really slowed down on anything game-related. It felt nice to rediscover my other interests, like going outside! For so long, my mind was focussed on game development that everything else was out of balance. Getting back to doing other things helped clear my head, and made it clear that I can still do all of the things I like, but it would be important to do them in smaller amounts to keep everything balanced.
An important thought came up during this time; I make games because I like making them! There was no need to beat myself during the process, especially since the whole experience was for fun. If your livelihood depends on finishing games by a certain date, then it'll be a much different story of course.

Eventually, it occurred to me that while trying all these ideas was a good way to practice different aspects of making a game, I really out to settle on something and get back into the swing of things. A proper sequel to the Mayan Mystery was long overdue, and with all the exploration of styles done over the previous few years, the time seemed right to start on that. Looking back at all those images is interesting, because the sequel really ended up being a combination of almost all of them!
Graphically, I wanted to do something new. Pixel art is still amazing when done right, but I felt the urge to draw, so in the winter of 2015, I settled on creating a side-scrolling shooter with hand drawn graphics and try to build on the story that was started with the Mayan Mystery.

In the next post, I'll show a little bit of what I've got set up for Adventure Apes 2, as well as talk about being approached to have the Mayan Mystery put on Steam Greenlight. Exciting times to be sure!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Bringing an Idea to Life (PartVI)

So, after something like four years of learning and development, my game was pretty much done! By this point, most people would have had months of exposure under their belt by way of forum posts/announcements and blurbs or articles on gaming sites talking about your new game. I was definitely behind the ball on this!
Being a lone developer means that you're in charge of every aspect of the game. It is an amazing way to learn every aspect there is to making a game, but also comes with a massive amount of responsibility. In my case, I spent so much time figuring out how to make the game that I completely neglected any form of promotion.
Letting people know your game exists is arguably more important than the game itself. You could have an amazing game, or you could have something truly horrendous, but if nobody knows about it, then what was the point of putting all that time and effort into making it?
The Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery fell somewhere in the middle. After putting some videos together, along with a little press kit, I set off to beg and plead with writers at gaming sites to try my game. A handful of merciful souls did, and a few people started making videos playing through the game. If trying to figure out how to promote the game was stressful, seeing people talk and write about the game was downright nerve wracking!!
The online reviews were fair, and seemed to get the purpose of making a retro-inspired game. That probably comes due to the fact that they can sit down and think about how to put an article together. The videos were all more of a first impression type thing, and while people generally liked the graphics and music, the gameplay was a major issue for people who didn't have a very powerful computer.
When I was learning how to make the game, my goal was to try and make something as visually interesting as possible, and one of the many terrible ideas I had was to make the blocks in each room change to a different sprite image each time the player left/entered. It fit in well with my whole concept of making something maze-like, but never considered how much processing power it would take. For instance, people playing the game on laptops would only manage a few frames per second. Ugh! Then there was the issue of jumping. For a platformer game, your movement needs to be on point or else it'll make the player feel like they're constantly fighting the game.
These two issues, along with my total lack of preparation for getting the Adventure Apes brand out there made for a pretty bumpy ride. The reviews were at times hard to swallow, but I did my best to take what I could from them and improve the game (Knowing what I know now, I should have called this a beta release!). In the end, it did make me revisit the game and make changes that ultimately improved the experience by quite a bit. It was a heck of a way to go about finding out about these issues, and I don't recommend it to anyone!

It was 2012, and I had taken my shots with the initial coverage, as well as taken the time to make the game more playable. Without that initial wave of exposure, interest in it had died down quite a bit. I'm not exactly sure how this next bit happened, but I was asked if I wanted to have the game included in a couple of bundles! One was called the Stuffing Bundle, and the other was part of a bundle for a local political party trying to promote entertainment development in the community. They were both opportunities for massive amounts of exposure, so I jumped at the chance!
Bundles are kind of interesting. On one hand, you get a small percentage of the true cost of your game, but on the other hand, the amount of people who are made aware of your game is undeniable. If you're in the position where you depend on selling your game to pay the bills, I can see how it would be a hard decision to make, especially if you aren't getting a lot of exposure. There are probably good ways to leverage the exposure from a bundle deal into sales from your website somehow, but don't expect me to know how!
Actually, if you had more than one product on your site, you could definitely expect an increase of sales after a bundle, when people are curious what else you might have :)

Wow, this post was a little on the lengthy the next post, I'll briefly cover the years 2012-2016 (It will be quick, I promise!), and getting Greenlit!

Here's a little extra if you're thinking of getting in to game development (If I haven't scared you off already!), It's a really amazing resource for indie developers, called PixelProspector. Simon has put years into making this site, and the amount of useful info you can find there to help you through every aspect of making your game will surprise you!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bringing an Idea to Life (Part V)

I previously mentioned the idea of making an instruction booklet to go along with the game. To me, it seemed like a great way to do something a little different from a lot of indie games at the time, as well as have fun doing some drawings!
One of the coolest things about games back in the mid-80s is the fact that the booklets generally included a bunch of artwork to go along with the info. Flipping through the pages was always exciting! It was a way to get some insight into the game; reading up on the backstory and enemies etc. Having that art was a great way to interpret what you'd actually see in the game, since the quality of graphics couldn't come close to what could be shown in a little sketch.
Incidentally,  while searching for examples of instruction booklets I found an amazing site with info on games from pretty much every older system imaginable. Check out Games Database here!

 Guardian Legend

Super Mario Bros 3

Mega Man 3


That was definitely something I wanted to emulate, since I made the decision to have tiny little pixel graphics (fyi, the player character in the game, Mitch, is 14 pixels tall, and everything is based on a 16x16 pixel grid, so being able to show elements of the game in greater detail seemed smart).
Using the original storybook style as a basis, I tried to make everything in the booklet cartoony, fun and really colourful. Here a few of the pages from my instruction booklet:

Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery

As a kid, I spent a ton of time drawing things that I thought were interesting. Not just from video games necessarily, but it seems art based purely on imagination has a way of sparking the viewer's creative flair. I thought it would be really cool if these drawings would make a kid want to draw, the same way those old instruction manuals inspired me! In the end though, it was something I wanted to include to make the whole experience feel a little more nostalgic, even if everything was in a digital format.

In the next post, I'll talk about finalizing/releasing the game, and taking my lumps along the way!