Developer Diary #18 — Lava Lamb

It’s been some time since my last writing, so I’ll just dive back in and talk about what’s been going on. The summer was somewhat slow for game work, with the bulk of my time spent on API integration for various platforms. I have not released Treasure Chasm yet, which is really ironic considering how rapidly I created it. There are many “reasons” (aka excuses) I can give, but the main issue is that I am still without music. Hopefully I will be able to wrap it up and release in the near future. I also participated in the Ludum Dare, and crossed the finish line for the first time. I spent some time after the weekend working on expanding the game, but soon found the overall design lacked enough depth to continue. Even the failure was great design experience.

For now, however, I have been working on a totally new game. It is just days from release. I started with thoughts about combining pinball with Doodle Jump. It turned out to be rich with gameplay, which I am thrilled about. Initially I was going to make the game about a series of interesting little monsters that jump out of a volcano. While the gameplay was going very well, the theming just was not right. I tried to make a few different monsters but the result was mostly just confusing.

Then, I made one little change. I scrapped the monsters and added a sheep. Something about the juxtaposition of wool and lava was really hilarious to me. After that the game really just fell into place. I watched a great talk by Rami from Vlambeer about game backstory which helped me assemble a structure about a stupidly brave lamb that has jumped into a volcano. For some reason you are supposed to rescue the sheep with giant pinball flippers. Also disco is playing. By that point, the title Lava Lamb just seemed very appropriate.

Right now, everything is “done.” This means I am in “struggle with Apple” mode. The only steps left are uploading app preview videos and submitting the final build. Hopefully that can be accomplished in the next few days, but the last couple weeks of Red Tape Jungle give me reason to be hesitant about any projections.

Ryan

Developer Diary #17 — Gifs Ahoy

Work on Treasure Chasm has finally begun. Boy has it been fast. I’ve never had a project take off so quickly. The last few weeks have been very interrupted by travel and grad school finals, so the rapid reentry has been very refreshing. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my pre-drawn artwork served as a to-do list once development began. With so much time to consider how the game should go, I found the gameplay was solidified and focused before I even began to program. There really is very little complexity, and I want to keep it that way. Projects tend to spiral out of control with too many ideas. So far, I have been avoiding that by sticking to a simple core. We’ll see how that plays out in the end game.

I’ve included some gifs to show off some of the game. The main idea is simple: dive below the surface to collect treasure, but don’t run out of fuel. Players can refuel at the surface as well as upgrade their submarine. As the players upgrade their vehicle they will be able to go further and further below the surface, where greater rewards are found. Along the way they run into many different kinds of obstacles. The goal of the game is to reach the bottom of the ocean to collect the greatest treasure. What players doesn’t know is that a secret buzzes in the deep. I am currently wrestling with the ending, giving it a satisfying bigness without bloating the project unnecessarily.

 

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I can’t properly describe how much fun I’m having with this. Here’s to hoping it’s just as fun for everyone else. More to come soon!

 

Ryan

Developer Diary #12 — Forward Movement

This must have been the week to wrap things up. I now have two finished games to write about. As I wrote in the last post, I have been working with a local business. Now that the project is over, I can share some details.

The game is called JuJuBerry: The Game. JuJuBerry is a frozen yogurt store. It turns out frozen yogurt is highly adaptable to games. They have over 80 different toppings and 18 different flavors of yogurt which change regularly (nothing beats fringe flavors like Red Velvet and French Toast soft serve). I decided the toppings would make a great matching game, so I took the very popular “match three” model and gave it my own twist. The project took about a month and overall was a joy to work on. I spent a lot of time and energy on devising ways to help bring people into the store via the game. The coming months will tell how beneficial the game has been to the business.

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Play Here

After finishing JuJuBerry: The Game I moved on to Breakout Cove, which has been sitting sadly idle while my focus was diverted. I took a couple days and wrapped up the end-game and found/created the sounds and wrestled them into cross-platform submission. I am very pleased with the result. I hope to use the new skills I have acquired while working on this to influence my future work. I have placed a link in my portfolio and am taking orders for non-exclusive licenses.

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Play Here

Both of these games are a big step forward for me. Looking back at my portfolio I can see a dramatic increase in both focus and quality for these games. I am figuring out what to spend my time on, how to transition between segments of the game fluidly and coherently, and how to direct the player without being frustrating. I am also seeing a maturing of my art style (which in its current form is only about a year old) that is moving from “pretty” to “polished”. I have a long way to go yet, but the forward movement has definitely been encouraging.

-Ryan

Developer Diary #10 — Breakout Cove

The past couple weeks have been spent creating a new portal game. This one is based on the traditional Breakout—but with some alterations. One major change is the level structure. I hate the end of a level in Breakout because it becomes about waiting for the ball to hit the last brick (at random). I decided to change that by having the bricks move down the screen like Space Invaders or Tetris. This both removes the need for pre-made levels and solves that waiting around problem.

Breakout Cove

In one sense there’s nothing remarkable about the game. It’s a Breakout clone. It makes sense to make it because there’s a market for HTML5 games with classic gameplay. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would be putting the time into it. And yet, I’m really excited about this game. For one, I’ve made some dramatic leaps in visual design. I think taking the time to make a checklist in Anyone Can Make Beautiful Games gave me an intentionality I didn’t have before. It’s also a familiar style of play, yet it feels new and slick. Breakout has never felt slick to me before.

Now I just have to finish the darn thing.

-Ryan

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Heurism: Managed Creativity

I often hear Indies talk about their self-employment providing unlimited capacity for creative freedom. The fairly logical thought is that, since they have no boss, they can do whatever they want. This is only partially true. Creative Freedom is not the freedom to do whatever you want. It’s the freedom to pick your restraints.

That Game Company thrives because it restrains itself to a specific thematic pallet.

Let me explain. All truly great people live with purpose. Their actions are goal-oriented and pursue a specific theme. Those who don’t stick with anything very long live scattered lives and are often forgotten. Think of Michelangelo, Beethoven, Einstein, Plato—even the Beetles. These people really took time to flesh out what they were doing. They used heuristic progression, which means that the previous project informed the next. There’s a reason Frank Sinatra is almost his own genre. In an economic sense, creating a genre for yourself creates a supply which will generate its own demand. People come to you because they want another piece of the pie you’re offering—not someone else’s pie.

So what does this have to do with indie game developers? New developers are often so enamored by freedom that they try to do everything. Yes, having no boss means no one is telling you what to do. However, if you lose all discipline and are not self-directed, you will never create your own genre. People will see your portfolio and have no idea what you’re about. They likely came to your website interested in a certain kind of game you developed and want more like it. When they see you are inconsistent, they’ll likely leave. If your portfolio is disjointed and random they might as well go to a generic flash portal–which is just are random but has a greater selection.

Kyle Gabler of 2D Boy and Tomorrow Corporation has a unified portfolio. If you've played any of his previous work, you know what you're getting into when you play a game he's worked on.

Kyle Gabler of 2D Boy and Tomorrow Corporation has a unified portfolio. If you’ve played any of his previous work, you know what you’re getting into when you play a game he’s worked on.

This does not mean that each game should be a clone of the last. In fact you’re likely to make everyone (including yourself) unhappy that way. Instead, choose a theme or two and commit to making at least three games in that vein. Themes could include a mechanic category (platformer, first person, top-down, turn based), a gameplay category (strategy, arcade, shooter, puzzle), an art style, ideas explored, a narrative focus, etc. Whatever you choose, be intentional about what you make. That includes picking your limits. You’ll find that those limits propel your work lightyears beyond the diffusion of unrestrained freedom.

What themes are you working with? How are you accomplishing that? Are there themes you’d really like to start exploring? Maybe we can share some ideas and enrich each other. Lately, I have been exploring the concept of “beautiful danger.” I have aimed for a soft, gentle art style dotted with dark forests, minor music, and shadowy unknown. I also appreciate the power of silhouette and gentle blurring. I want to explore simple game mechanics which are used to create deep gameplay. How about you?

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-Ryan

 

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PolyPong

PolyPong

PolyPong is a game of skill that anyone can play. Based on classic games like Pong and Breakout, this game is about keeping balls from leaving the screen using four paddles…and lasers, black holes, time manipulation, glue, bombs, and more. PolyPong is extremely rewarding and easy to play–players receive achievements and new powerups for reaching higher scores. Each powerup dramatically alters gameplay, keeping it fresh and exciting for hours.

Ben Chong of MarketJS.com: “This developer gets powerups right!”

“I can’t stop playing this game…”

“This Is Addicting”

PolyPong was developed using Construct 2 and Inkscape, and is exported to HTML5 Javascript. It runs in most modern browsers (including mobile browsers). PolyPong was designed with mobile phones in mind. Try it on your mobile phone for an even better experience!

If you are a game publisher and would like to talk about licencing PolyPong, contact us for more info.

Play it here

Celesti

Celesti

Celesti is about defending a city. Draw lines through the sky with the mouse or touch controls to create barriers that block meteors, destroy spaceships, and collect health bonuses. The gameplay is reminiscent of Missile Command, but with unique mechanics, sleek, modern graphics, loads of content, and dynamic scenery.

Ben Chong of MarketJS.com: “Wow, this is a new game mechanic I’ve never seen before. Good job!”

Jamie Hoyle of TheCoolGamer.com: “We love this game because it has a fantastic style of gameplay – it is like nothing we’ve ever seen before!”

Celesti was developed using Construct 2 and Inkscape, and is exported to HTML5 Javascript. It runs in most modern browsers (including mobile browsers).

If you are a game publisher and would like to talk about licencing Celesti, contact us for more info.

Play it here