A Birth of a Game Developer
This is my first game. I mean, there were some attempts before to create a playable something, a few unfinished practice projects, most of them using stock imagery and which never really saw daylight. This is the first game I’ve designed, coded, adorned with self-made visuals and, last but not least, published and advertised.
This is my very own, personal story of from zero to hero. Well, a “hero” being a battle-hardened Game Designer, I’ve always dreamed to become. And along this path I’ve learned that I love the ups and downs of video game development. To the point this realization could very well be a life-changing moment for me.
Because you see, I’m not exactly a youngster anymore...
Last year I finished 45. Having spent most of my life playing all sorts of games, I’ve finally decided it’s time to build my own. Of course, easier said than done, when you work fulltime, have a family and spend already way too much time at the computer.
Chasing the Rabbit
Still, the lure of getting started at something completely fresh and fascinating was too strong to dismiss. And so I’ve made the first step which was rather a jump into a deep end since I knew nothing about programming, designing or marketing. I’ve attended a game jam.
You know, one of those events during which you’re supposed to build a working game on a given theme. In less time than a weekend.
Now, what could I do without any real knowledge of game engines like Unity or Unreal? And not knowing how to code, while we’re at it. Well, I’ve decided to quickly learn some basics of a simple engine and make the most of it before the time runs out.
I chose Stencyl, a nice little engine that lets you put together games without actual coding. Free version allowed to compile your game as a Flash file, playable in a browser. That was fine enough with me.
Putting aside the problem that is a lack of coding skills I still had to figure out a way of preparing some decent visuals for my not-yet-named game. Using stock images was an open option although I’d preferred not to go this way.
Then an ingenious idea struck me! The location of this particular game jam happened to be an ultra-industrial academic institution. Rooms full of computers, whiteboards scribbled with diagrams, pipes and vents adorning the ceilings.
Why not use all of those precious, fascinating elements?
Swiftly, I took out my slightly outdated smartphone and spend my first hour of the game jam wandering the rooms, corridors and lecture halls, taking pictures. Some people definitely must have taken me for some kind of an industrial spy, seeing a guy diligently shooting ceilings, pieces of machinery and projector screens.
That way I’ve quickly obtained a load of agreeable quality graphic assets for my game. The pics were not too great plus I didn’t want anyone to easily recognize the place. Some things need to be blurred or literally taken out of the picture.
Like people. I wanted no (visible) people in my game.
Too much fuss asking everyone for their permission to be used as a background crowd in the game. Anyway, I photographed mostly rooms without any people in them at the moment. Empty corridors, empty studios, empty staircases.
A top-secret Laboratory where everyone working in it have suddenly disappeared...
The plot base of my game
The game project in Stencyl has a low resolution of 640x480px. So instead of having meager pictures shrunk into small meager pictures, I’ve pixelated them all even further. Instant pixel-art, industrial, highly computerized graphics devoid of humans.
That’s how a ‘retrofuturistic’ art style was born.
The game had 2D “photorealistic” background graphics along with some 2D, not-animated objects isolated from pictures. There was no time (and no skill) to make anything three dimensional, running, jumping or spewing bullets. How to combine all those pics into a game that is not a slide show?
The easiest and obvious solution: a point-and-click adventure!
Stencyl has proved to be a perfect engine for creating such a game in a short space of time.
Suffice to say, I’ve managed to put together a little game titled ‘COMPetition’ (coincidently being a theme of this particular game jam). Fewer locations than I have fingers in both hands. No sound effects. No user interface to speak of.
But it was a working game! I did it!
If you search the Web really, really hard or ask me really, really nicely you may find this very first incarnation of a game that a year later turned into a full-pledged retrofuturistic cyberpunkish mystery adventure called mAIn COMPetition.
Saving the World with mAIn COMPetition
But that didn’t happen overnight.
After that fateful game jam finished I decided to keep working on the prototype and make it into a full game. I also wanted to pave the way for my future games, from the idea to the final release.
I needed to understand and experience firsthand all the steps involving developing a game, including so often forgotten early advertising, branding and ongoing support for the players community.
I’ve created a single person gamedev studio called Lunar Shuriken, set up a front page for it and opened a few dedicated media channels. Altogether rather costly but that supposed to be an investment. And a fun...
The Fun Begins
As for the game itself, I’ve sat back at the drawing table, designed all levels, wrote the plot anew and reworked the gameplay. New elements include a tutorial, user interface, player inventory, and Options screen along with the save/load feature.
Pushing forward my initial idea of making the best possible (as far as I’m able to do!) game on a given engine, I’ve stayed with Stencyl. That way I could easily reuse a lot of code and assets from the prototype.
Working an hour, two daily, every day, I’ve extended greatly the original game setting, The Laboratory, added some items for the player to use, and some little special effects as a final touch.
All along the production of the game, I’ve struggled to find effective ways to spread the word about mAIn COMPetition, to reach potential reviewers, streamers and, most importantly, future players!
Releasing a final game on Steam is no piece of cake either if you do it for the very first time, and do it alone. There were moments when writing a script necessary to publish the title on this platform appeared to be much more difficult than coding the actual game.
Finally, after almost a full year after the “Competition” jam my first real game, mAIn COMPetition, was released! The rest is history. But it’s a history in the making because I still support existing players and try to reach with the game to new ones.
Solo, but With a Little Help From My Friends
I walked all the way with the game from the first paper designs to the final release mostly alone, but not entirely solo.
I’ve managed to get some invaluable help from a handful of nice people who lent me their skills by preparing additional visual assets, sound effects, cover art, editing the in-game texts and testing the game thoroughly.
As for the soundtrack for mAIn COMPetition I’m blessed to be married to a wonderful game music composer and vocalist Liz Katrin, who created a whole album of tracks for the game. The best feature of the game, if you ask me!
Retrofuture and The Game is Not Over
Currently, I’m working on another game, still learning the ropes, attending conferences for game developers and building the players base for the Lunar Shuriken studio.
mAIn COMPetition – a retrofuturistic mystery adventure game is available on Steam and several other platforms. Look out for promotions and bundles. The game is cheaper than a cup of coffee but should last a little bit longer and provide you with much more pleasure.