Monthly Archives: June 2013
Technology selection risks
So much is written and said about how it is now feasible for a single-person or micro team indie studio to exist these days, what with digital distribution, rapid/easy dev tools and a much more diverse player audience. Indeed it is so celebrated I recently asked on Twitter as to whether being an indie game developer is the new ‘being in a band’?
The flip side of this celebration if the virtues of being an indie is that you are far more at risk from external factors that you cannot possibly predict or plan for. This happened to me just today.
We recently got a verbal OK on a project for a local client. I cannot disclose anything about the client or the project but I can say that I had proposed a multi-platform game (iOS and Android), that had asynchronous competitive multi-player and a bunch of cloud features. This was very achievable (note ‘was’) due to the dev tools we prefer to use; Corona SDK and their recently released cloud gaming services.
The Corona Cloud services were pretty much unique as they enabled developers to quickly set up and integrate not only leaderboards and achievements but to have a single, cross-platform sign-in, cross-platform asynch play and cloud synching, CMS and analytics all from a single application build process. Apple’s Game Centre and Google Play Services offer most of this but not in a cross-platform way. Developers need to create two versions of their games and the feature sets manifest in very different ways meaning a different user experience depending on whether you are an iOS or Android device user. Cross-platform asynchronous competitive gameplay requires a proprietary (hence costly) approach.
It was with much angst, therefore, when I received an email from Corona Lab’s COO this morning informing me that they have decided to pull their new cloud services permanently. Clearly they recognized that they couldn’t deliver the vision that they had promised and they had taken then commendable decision to own up to that, receive a lot of flak now but avoid much more pain for them and their developer community in the future.
However, I now need to deliver on the project proposal that I promised, in the same time frame and for the same budget but know, now, that will require significantly more effort on my part.
Making technology and service provision choices is never easy irrespective of your scale but for a micro studio, where your options are probably already limited by lack of free capital, getting those decisions right is even more critical.
So…for those of you that don’t know (most people probably), I’ve been working on a mobile puzzle game called Lunar Loot Drop. The game is intended to offer the accessibility and ease of play that games like Diamond Dash and Candy Crush Saga provide but with a less cutesy theme and a more cerebral challenge. The game blends ‘falling blocks’ and ‘sliding squares’ puzzle game formats, adds a bit of crafting, time pressures and a unique theme and character back story and will be initially released for iOS (optimized for iPad) in Q3.
I’ve worked in and around the games industry for about a dozen years in my own companies in various design, producer, project manager, product owner and bizdev capacities. I’ve never made a game by myself – i.e. actually done the coding – in all my years. I had some experience with BASIC in the 80’s, HTML and classic ASP/SQL in the late 90s and some ad-hoc AS2 exposure in the early 2000’s but I haven’t had any formal computer science or software engineering training. As such I would not dare to call myself a developer.
About six months ago I started learning Lua and the Corona SDK. I was blown away by Corona’s capabilities and with the user ecosystem around it (200,000 developers and counting). The last six months have seen many new features and improvements to the offering, such as some heavyweight cloud gaming utilities and I have found it to be an excellent tool thus far. I’ve thrown myself into mastering Corona and Lua and have since written about 30,000 lines of code which now form Lunar Loot Drop. Actually it is probably more like 50,000 if you include the really bad stuff that I have since re-written. There is no official IDE as such so I’ve hand-coded everything in Notepad++, but that is no bad thing and forces a certain discipline and requirement to do things properly.
The game is really taking shape now albeit there is a long way to go before it will meet that ‘minimum viable product’ stage. What started out as a physics-based ‘sort em up’ is now quite different in nature but, I believe, much more coherent as an entertainment product. I’ve had my kids play it and shown a few people – with plenty of useful feedback – and I hope to get a formal alpha release out to select individuals via Testflight in a few weeks time.
My goal is that Lunar Loot Drop serves to begin to build a player community upon which I can build EVIL27 Games as a business. I don’t hold any monetary aspirations for the game, certainly not in its initial public guises. The cost of paid-for player acquisition is beyond my budget and I can’t compete on production values not feature scope with well-resourced studios. What I do hope for is a bundle of great insight and lessons learned about taking a mobile game from concept to the digital stores and then through a journey of constant iteration based on quantitative and qualitative feedback.
I’m going to post regular updates on my progress plus share some screenshots and artwork. I’d truly appreciate any input, questions, feedback or ideas about the game itself, about learning to programme or anything game industry-related.
‘Chief Evil Officer’