So what’s it like to take over programming of an innovative, quirky and unique 2d Side Scroller when you’ve never programmed a fucking thing in your life before? Yeah, sorta like that. But this is my lot in life, or at least my professional life. Probably a good thing, I needed to be shaken up, spend some time under the hood so to speak.
So far I’ve created a prototype of the character movement controller, and I must say I’m pretty impressed. I’ve had several folk take a whack at it and nothing has come close to feeling as organic, or ‘unique’ as I want it to feel. I’ll post a demo at some point. In the meantime, here’s some artwork, my version of paddling a left-handed river with a left-handed paddle.
Each time I start a new game, I can’t help but wonder what cool new plugin, game mechanic or user experience I”m going to want to include, only to be disappointed to learn that implementing it would make the production cycle take much longer and likely run like a dog on all but the latest generation of mobile devices. Yet, sometimes we experiment anyway…and experiment and experiment some more.
Our team utilizes Dropbox for development. Jacob (Williams), the man behind our coding goodness here at OTP also utilizes Git Hub, but I’m a bit slow, so mercifully he hasn’t forced me to learn how to use it. Anyway… We have a folder in our Development folder called, R & D. I”m sure many indie development teams have such a folder. IT is filled with half-baked ideas, rashly assemble prototypes, and experiments with newly purchased plugins that held more promise in discussion than in implementation. Research and Development… a sucking hole that seems to quash our fear of being unproductive or inefficient with time, I mean, every team needs to do R & D, right?
I think the trick is to not let the R & D portion of the work week exceed the P & R portion of the week. R & D sorta flies in the face of P & R, and no matter how much weight our investigative spirit might put on R & D, we secretly know that it’s P & R that matter come mortgage time. P & R you ask? Production and Results.
Last week I was lucky enough to catch Indie Game: The Movie during the Special Filmmaker’s preview at the IFC Center in NYC. The movie was awesome, inspiring and a serious look at the business of Indie Games. If you haven’t seen it, or heard about it…shame the hell on you. But here’s the trailer to catch you up so the rest of this makes sense:
During the movie, two of the intrepid gamemakers, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes discussed what drives them; drives them to make the best games they are capable of making, and to make them really…really hard. I love a challenge. I really do. But sometimes, I want to zone out and just fling a bird, or deliver water to a dirty Alligator. Is that a slap in the face of my fellow Indie devs? Is casual gaming less than? I can’t believe that even the most hardcore gamer wouldn’t appreciate flicking a Tiny Winged bird from hill to hill. It just feels so fucking good…Today I discussed our current, and yes, extremely casual title ‘Skimmer’ with lead programmer, Jacob Williams. I asked what platforms we’d likely target with our soon to release bit of fluffy summery goodness. When I suggested Desktops markets like the Mac Store and potentially Steam, he grunted and declared that Steam was not the place for relaxed casual games like ours, particularly, indie casuals. I was sorta taken aback. Is there no room for simply fun, simply relaxed game play in the world ravenous for grinding up poor Super Meat Boy, or bashing one’s skull on the desk for a few hours to decipher Jonathan Blow’s intricate riddles in his classic Braid?
Are casual indie games real games?
So as of late, I’ve been spending some time with one of the more popular visual scripting tools for the Unity game engine, Playmaker by HutongGames LLC. I have to say, the prospect of being able to make interactivity happen for someone who has spent much of their life, code impaired is pretty exciting.
I’m a LONG way from claiming or desiring to code an entire game. I way prefer working on a team with “guns’ in each area of expertise. But I have to tell you. The entire structure of coding, makes more sense to me now than it ever has before. And I owe that revelation to this wonderful plugin for Unity 3d.
So Out to Play Interactive has been going through a metamorphosis recently. It started with an internal challenge to steer away from small kid-targeted, cute n quirky projects as our primary focus. This itself was a big move. But to steer more into the realm of casual game development paired with more involved, puzzle oriented platformers and adventures. This was huge. The metamorphosis is still underway.
For indie development, limited or no budget, daytime jobs and tenuous or non-existent social lives is the norm. The process can be taxing and risky. Game project selection needs to be handled wisely or no one eats (literally). If long vision projects are allowed to go stale, lose focus, let deadlines drift, the incentive or aspiration to make a kick-ass game will fade…expect failure.
To survive long vision projects, short, casual projects can be a nice break or chance to refresh mentally. They tend to be popular with a wider audience because they’re pretty, fun and easy to play in short spurts. Their narrative base can be shallow, but they provide distraction, accomplishment and satisfaction; all in an easy to use handheld package.
The pairing of these two mismatched siblings can be a hard pill(s) for some developers to reconcile. Each targets a different types of player, offer different types of creative satisfaction. But the ‘casual quickie’ can aid a team in honing their collective experience, confidence, funding and reputation (i.e. BUZZ).
They also help an indie game development team face the long vision projects with a sense that we won’t get our asses handed to us in six months when half the team gets fed up and says “Screw you…I’m done.” Each game under the belt, each cycle or creation-production-promotion-and postmortem makes the team stronger and better equipped to make better projects.
So before you poo-poo that casual game pitch from the programmer or art guy, think about it… on your commute home last night, what were people playing on their iPhones? (Probably some form of Tetris, but you get the point). Life happens in long winding paths. But sometimes, games are played between train stops. And what indie among us couldn’t use a little Angry Avian money (or even mildly agitated avian money for that matter…)?