To sum up, if it’s your first game, it’s going to be crap. So don’t expect a rapturous reception from anyone except your mum. And even then she’ll be lying. By the same token, second game: crap as well.”
– Graham Goring, The Arsecast
All right. Time to face the music.
I think I’m going to invert the usual Game Developer/Gamasutra format and do “What Went Wrong” first.
1. I should not have made this game.
Or at the very least, I shouldn’t have made it right now. This is the premier game for Viridian Games. The premier game should have been flashy, punchy, and most importantly, unique. From a business perspective, this is the worst game I could have made – a generic-looking game in a genre already well-covered by at least two other companies. But I really, really wanted to make it, and I felt I’d have a leg up because I was starting with the codebase from Inaria Original, but that ended up not helping me at all as I rewrote everything about the game. Which leads to…
2. Lack of middleware.
I’ve got this really, really, really bad habit of wanting to write every line of code that goes into my games. I don’t have to do that. Indeed, I shouldn’t do that. Using a middleware system like Gamemaker or Ogre3D would have shaved tons of dev time off, cost me absolutely nothing and almost certainly improved the game. I’ll be finding appropriate middleware for everything I make from now on.
To emphasize this, here’s Arkiruthis‘ prototype of Powermonger, “lots of dots” version, from March 19:
Then he installed Ogre3D. And here’s the April 17 version:
If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you’ll know that I worked on Planitia for years…and here’s the best it ever looked:
To sum up, I think the quality of my future games will be in direct inverse proportion to the percentage of my own code in them.
3. Lack. Of. Content.
This killed me. I am a programmer/designer, but on Inaria I spent way too much time programming and not nearly enough designing. I had legacy maps from Original Inaria and the (now defunct) iPhone version and I thought I could just punch them up and be done with them…but in the end, my entire game design caused the maps to play a lot faster than I expected. This wouldn’t have been a problem if I’d had twenty or so of them, but I only ended up with nine…making Inaria a really fast game to blow through. I also didn’t use the traps and secret doors I made nearly enough – because I coded them so late in the project!
Exacerbating this, players are hitting their stat caps and getting all skills in the game really fast; I should probably have made the abilities things you had to buy with points instead of things that automagically unlocked as your stats went up. That one change, plus at least five more maps that properly used the engine’s abilities, would have made Inaria so much better.
I couldn’t have released this game any worse. I thought once I uploaded the completed game to Files Forever that I could start talking about it; this proved disastrous when people tried to link to the Viridian Games website…only to discover it unfinished, without even a link to buy the game. After getting a very nice trailer for Inaria, I uploaded it to YouTube three times…and made the video public all three times, requiring me to delete the previous video and its associated comments when I uploaded a new, better version. Basically, I undermined any attempt anyone else made to help me get the word out about this game.
I also didn’t realize that you need to participate in the various indie communities in order to get a build-up going for your game before release so that people will be anticipating it. Being an indie developer requires a lot more than just making games.
Whew. Enough of that. Let’s talk about the good stuff.
What Went Right:
Inaria would never have been finished if I hadn’t put the game up on 8BitFunding.com. For two reason: First, people actually donated money, suggesting that they might be interested in this game. Second, I felt it was much more important to get the game out once money became involved. Lesson learned – money is an excellent motivator, even if you’ve already got it. I could have taken the contributor’s money and ran; the site makes clear that you’re donating money and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a return on your investment so I had no obligation whatsoever…except that I’m not a jackass. I felt that the people who had helped me out deserved something in return, prompting me to spend a lot of spare time completing this game.
(8BitFunding still needs to fix about a hundred different things on their site, but their hearts are in the right place. Hopefully they’ll get their stuff together soon.)
2. Best. Testers. EVAR.
Once the beta started, I discovered that I had some of the best testers I’d ever seen. They quickly found problems I never would have, tried crazy things that broke the game in interesting ways, and made suggestions that made the game so much better. Frankly, my game was not worthy of their attentions, but I hope they all come back for the next one!
3. H. Arnold Jones.
With the money I got from 8BitFunding I was able to look around for a musician. I found the perfect one in the person of H. Arnold Jones. I’ve lauded superlatives upon him before, but I’ll do it again – the music is actually the best part of the game, and frankly you may just want to cut out the middleman and buy the soundtrack from his store
4. A chance to start building a rep for good service.
So far I’ve had exactly two people have a problem with Inaria. But I took both problems very seriously and was able to resolve the problems quickly. This is important because all indie game developers need to build a reputation for having good service; it’s one of our few advantages over big studios.
5. I actually did it.
This is weak sauce, but the truth is…you wouldn’t think there’s a big difference between the moment before you publish your first game and the moment after. But there is. Publishing Inaria was a huge learning experience from me, and I hope I’ll be able to use that information in the future.
In summation, Inaria didn’t turn out the way I wanted it. It’s sad that I had to make so many learning mistakes on Inaria, since I love it so much…but again, I felt like I needed to make that game. It wasn’t a business-oriented decision, it was (forgive me) an artistic decision.
And speaking of artistry…it’s said that every creative person has ten thousand bad projects in them that they have to get through before they can actually start doing good work. I hope that number isn’t literal, because if it is…frankly, I don’t have the strength.