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Prologue

April Fools Day 2017, I published an App, as a preamble to making a ‘proper’ game. To get something from concept to market and hone a production pipeline for digital products. Job done.
The App, a text-based ‘toy’ rather than a game, contains a hidden story and puzzle for anyone insanely persistent. Solving the mystery results in instructions to email a certain word;  Experimental and unmarketed, buyers around the world still find and buy it, bizarrely it has a 5 star rating. No one has solved it yet. You can find it here:

The Game

While awaiting the blessing of Apple’s review gnomes, I was struggling to decide what I was going to do for my ‘real’ game. Making time-based creative work is putting all your golden eggs of time and money in one basket for an uncertain outcome. Companies with a lot more resources than me, implode daily trying to do it.

Speaking of which, I currently only have Fridays, evenings and holidays to work on The Game.

Some givens:

  1. 95+% of films, animations, games started are never finished.
  2. They always, without exception, take longer than scheduled.
  3. They go over budget (if you even have a budget) by at least double whatever percentage you are thinking of.
  4. If the idea you commit to is flawed, you can pour a lot of your short, precious life into something to no result.

Mitigated somewhat by:
5. Creating an animation / novel / film / game is a compulsion.

The way :

  1. Love your idea – if not a commercial success, you will have worked on something you enjoyed. Don’t try to make something you are not really into because it is trending or you think it currently marketable.
  2. Embrace ‘production’ as a  discipline. Creative types may struggle with this.

Production discipline includes looking at:  markets, financials, festivals, press, in parallel to the creative work; rather than making it first and then trying to sell it. Early social media presence is a now a requirement to get traction for your idea, whether bootstrapping or going for funding.

I imagine 80% of creatives are happy to get lost in creation without any good overview of what they are doing. Afforded in a large company of people with different roles. The smaller the business,  the more roles you must own and can’t neglect the less engaging ones.
While working on AuraAlert I settled on using Trello to handle, my own take on, agile production. It worked well for debugging and iterating and I have a reasonable kanban-esque system separating planning stages from sprints.

The stumbling block of *what* to make was compounded by the fact I truly enjoy so many genres from purely text-based interactive fiction, which I am glad to say is having a resurgence now,  to AAA games, and a lots of indie sub-meta-categories in between. Whatever I choose has to be compact enough to be realistically accomplishable in my available time. Game graveyards are littered with the corpses of unfinished MMORPG Space-Operas that dreamers started as their first game.

With this in mind I was expecting to spend a long time researching and figuring out what to do, but his post is to say,  I have committed.

Around 2004, while living in Japan I wrote a short, fantastical animation based on the life of Horatio Fiendish and a family of characters I had created who inhabited a parallel 1800’s England. Intended for a short 3D animation in Maya which I was using quite a bit at the time. However… life…got in the way, I had a young baby and lots of other distractions in a new country. The animation was completely storyboarded, but I never carved out the time I knew I would need to commit to production.

Whilst making AuraAlert, Horatio Fiendish made an unbidden appearance in a short 8 chapter novella buried within the app, something that just evolved during writing.
After uploading AuraAlert for review, I had a restless night thinking about what I should do next, but awoke with a clear outline of a game set on an island within the Fiendish universe.
An island was a device to give me reassuring limits to the scope of the game. The story emerged naturally including character relationships, politics, mysteries, story arcs and was outlined on six sheets of graph paper.

I then considered the production. Even with the Island limitation the game would be tough without a team or funding. So I decided to break the game down into two versions.

  • [FD1] A level-based, strategic 3D game, with interior settings. Lightweight enough to run well on tablets as well as desktop.
  • [FD2] A fuller, more narrative sandbox follow-up game set on the island, with more detailed artwork and environments. Probably for desktop and/or console.

The first version, I have the skill-set (graphics, models, rigging, animation, coding) to make completely solo and can start immediately. While doing this I will explore collaborations, funding, marketing to have a solid system/team in place for the second game.

The goal: an alpha of FD1 ready for February 2018 (more on that timing later).
Having a second game in the wings means that any run-away new ideas, that could slow completion on the first game can be hived off into consideration for the second game rather than evolving into feature-creep.

I would say a decent (small indie) game would normally take at least a couple of years to get done, I have given myself 11 months, to produce a ‘working version’.

I have decided to maintain this devlog from the very germ of a concept to completion. This seems like a time-sink I don’t need, but it has to be considered part of the development process these days when it is essential to ‘already’ have a following before seeking funding/distribution deals. There will no doubt be weeks when I have my nose in code and nothing ‘interesting’ to report, those times I will likely post with other thoughts on games other than my own.
If you can’t be arsed to keep up with the devlog, please sign up to the less frequent mailing list which will just be notifications of important milestones.

Bloody Hell, you’re still reading!

WELCOME to this journey whether it leads to Victory, petering out in the bitterness of the debtors prison or a caffeine-fuelled heart attack.

I’ll round up each blog with just a list of practical progress, for all you TL;DR folk ,which I will call:

STATE OF PLAY

  • Had a restless night
  • Had An Idea
  • Scribbled 6 pages of notes on graph paper in longhand.
  • Bought 2x domain names.
  • Set up a website.
  • Set up Trello with tasks concerning, character design, assets list, production research re: platforms + framework.
  • Started this devlog.

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