Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ya Gotta' Have Style

Before I spill my thoughts about game development all over you, I should let you know that the first build of the game is online for people to try out. This is mostly just a technical test to see what the engine can do. So, enjoy...

Now that we have that out of the way, today I wanted to talk about something that is incredibly important for INDIE games to think about... style. As an indie dev, you are working on an extremely constrained budget compared to modern AAA games. For instance, I can usually afford to front a few thousand dollars for everything I need to make a game that I can't do myself. This is nothing compared to the millions of dollars spent making modern AAA games. So, how is it possible to still compete in this situation? The answer is to chose an interesting style for you game which makes it appealing and beautiful but much cheaper to create than modern super realistic 3d graphics.

Coming up with a game style can take a great deal of creativity. There are many examples of how this has been done extremely well over the past years. A couple that come to mind are "Limbo" and "Braid" which both did an amazing job of creating a compelling world on indie budgets (though their budgets were still reasonably larger than mine).

After making "Legends of Descent" I learned a few lessons about the important of the style that you pick for your game. Legends used environment tiles which I would then arrange in a way to produce a dungeon. The first set of tiles that I used for development I borrowed from a game called "Tibia" and then later had an artist make original ones for me. I then took free character sprites from the web to use for my character and the enemies. This kind of worked out ok, but to be honest, the styles of the two clashed quite a bit. Also I ran into issues because the character sprites that I used were so large that they used a lot of memory. Furthermore, the character sprites were pretty expensive to get done by an artist, which limited how many enemy types I could put in the game. In the end, style is one of the things that I regret most about Legends.

Tiles being used to create a dungeon level in "Legends of Descent"

So, what are the important things that you should consider when deciding on your games style. Here are a few that I can think of...
  1. Will the style of all of the elements of your game flow together or feel disjointed?
  2. Is the style original or creative making it pleasing to view?
  3. How expensive will each asset cost to be made?
  4. How reusable are the assets? Can you easily tweak them to make many variations?
  5. Do the assets need to be created in several different angles (if 2d)? How many?
With those in mind, I have picked a much different style for my current game. First off, I will have it be top down instead of orthographic (from an angle). This allows me to rotate the sprites around 360 degrees instead of having to have many sprites drawn for each angel. Secondly, instead of using many drawn frames for the characters, I am instead going to break them up into pieces which I will animate by moving. This is similar to the game "Rayman" and will allow me to create lots of interesting animations with minimal art assets. Lastly, I am going to go for a more cartoony style that is probably inline with the SNES generation of games. I think that this is going to allow me to create a really large amount of content without being constrained severely by my small budget.

I found an awesome blog post about creating top down art here. You will notice that I have used his sprites with some slight modifications for version 0.1 of my game.

In the first build which is linked at the top of this post you can go try out the game and get an idea for how it will look. All of these graphics are either made by me or borrowed from free art sites. So, they give you an idea of how it will feel, but none of them are final. Once I am sure that this is the way I want to go I will bring on an artist to start doing the real ones. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Monday, February 17, 2014

So what shall it be?

Before you can start making a game there is something that you must have first... an idea. In general, it's pretty easy to come up with a game idea. However, it is much harder to come up with a fun game idea. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to come up with an "original" game idea. Pretty much all of the games that I have ever made are derivations on games that I have played on the past. In general, I play a game that I really like, and then I think about how I would change it, and then I go do that. As a result, I have a lot of respect for indie dev's who can actually come up with things that have never been done before.

So, in light of that, what kind of a game should I make now? Well, when I was teaching myself Unity last month I prototyped a game that my wife had suggested. It was a puzzle-platformer that had a very unique twist to it that I have never seen or heard of before. You can tell it came from my wife because it actually was original! I got all the way to a playable prototype which I really enjoyed making, but then came the moment of truth. I needed to actually design a puzzle that was fun to play. It turns out that I am completely terrible at puzzle creation. So, I gave up on that and decided to move towards something more familiar.

Recently, I have been having a lot of fun playing Roguelike games. For those who don't know, Roguelikes generally are RPG games which have a focus on procedural generation and perma-death. Some recent examples of games like this are "Dungeons of Dredmor" and "FTL" which are amazing games. I really like the perma-death idea for a couple of reasons
  1. It keeps play session shorter since it is no fun playing a game for more than a few hours if your entire progress will suddenly be lost.
  2. It adds a real intensity to the game since the consequence of death is so much higher
  3. It creates a great stage for re-playable content

Dungeons of Dredmor

My last game "Legends of Descent" was an action RPG with a lot of procedurally generated content, so it is not too far off from a Roguelike. However, the only consequence of death was a small gold cost. I wouldn't want to delete anyone's character because some people had actually logged 100's of hours into their characters.

So, what do I want to do differently with this new game now? Well, here are the main design points that I am currently thinking will guide me...

  1. Perma-death for all characters
  2. One play through from start to finish should take less than 2 hours
  3. The theme will be fantasy of some sort, likely an dungeon crawler still
  4. If players level-up, it will be pretty simple. No complex skill trees
  5. Most of the progression of the game will be through collecting items which will drastically change how you play based on which ones you equip.
  6. The game will be real time action, not turn based
  7. There will be a strong emphasis on replay-ability. Likely there will be unlockable content and some randomization to support this.


I know that leaves a huge portion of the game still completely unknown. I agree, and I plan to flesh those details out as I go. I will try a bunch of things out and keep the fun and toss the rest. If anyone decides to read this blog, then they can contribute to shaping the end product as well. Hopefully at the end I will end up with something worth the time!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let's make a game

Welcome to my new blog "AM Indie Dev". I named the blog this because ever since my daughter was born 3 years ago I have found that most of my "free time" exists in the wee hours of the morning when no human is normally awake. After coming to the conclusion that I was not going to be sleeping during these hours as long as I had small children, I decided that I would make some use out of them by learning to make indie games. Thus, my early morning indie game dev adventures began.

So far I have published 6 games. 5 of them on the Windows Phone 7 platform and 1 of them on the Xbox Live Indie Games platform. My most popular one is a top down action RPG called "Legends of Descent" which is very similar to the original Diablo. I spent about a year creating it and adding content to it, and it was an absolute blast. However, it was a big project and left me feeling a little burned out at the end. On top of that, Microsoft stopped supporting the XNA framework which I was using, so my entire engine no longer worked. As a result of this, I haven't created a new game for over a year now. Well... the time has come to start it up again. I am finally ready to get serious about a new project.
Legends of Descent

That's where you come in. I have decided to do regular blog posts as I create this new game and allow people to enjoy the process along with me. I have spent the last month learning how to use the Unity engine, and I have decided that I am ready to start a new game using it. Since it has a web player, I am hoping to regularly post updated builds of the game online that people can try out and give feedback on. Hopefully it will also be fun for people to see it come together over the course of many months.

So, here are some of the things you can expect from this blog over the next few months...
  • Getting to play a game from its infancy until it actually becomes fun
  • Getting to give feedback on the game and see it actually change
  • Hear my musings about indie game development in general
  • Learn something about how games are made as I share my progress
I hope you are as excited to go on this adventure as I am. My plan for the next couple of weeks is to do some posts about different game ideas that are going through my head and then eventually decide on one to pursue. I will also try and get a basic tech demo of a game up and running online so people can begin playing along. Let's make a game!