This week, I officially cut the corporate umbilical and am out on my own again. I’m grateful for my time with Atlassian, which is a great company filled with truly excellent people who I’m going to miss. The fact that I stayed for 6 years when my pitch to myself at acquisition time was ‘stick with it for 12 months and then see how you feel’ is indicative of that.
I’ve spent a year part-time learning how to be a game developer, and, well, I’m still very much learning. 🙂 A few experiments and prototypes on and I still feel like a toddler trying to race Usain Bolt, but I’m going to keep plugging at it.
(Not) on my own
One thing we discovered at a game jam a few months ago was that my wife Marie and I work pretty well together. She’s been doing the art on our latest project, and the core idea was originally hers. We play a lot of games together and have similar tastes - although she’s the established house expert in games like Mini Metro and SpaceChem. We have a lot in common, and a joint design effort seems to work well.
We’re both learning some new skills and enjoying working together, so that’s turned out to be a win. We’re now creating games under the name Old Doorways. We’ll have a mailing list soon, but for now keep an eye on my Twitter and this blog if you’re interested.
Imposter syndrome is definitely a problem for both of us right now. Marie’s often not happy with her art, and I’m often not happy with how quickly and how qualitively I can crank out the code to make it work. There are so many good studios out there, it’s quite daunting, but the only sane response to that is to do our best, try not to over-think it, and keep practicing.
There are good days and bad days, and we’re both hoping that the Internet won’t tear us a new one once we finally let our creations out into the world. At one point, given the often toxic environment around games, I considered trying to publish wholly anonymously, like some kind of ‘game Banksy’. But I realised that to do that would deny us the personal connections and assistance from the genuinely lovely people I know out there, scattered amongst all the awful trolls, so we won’t be doing that. Hopefully, we’ll be making the kind of games most of the trolls won’t care about. We’ll see I guess. 😶
Late to the party
Coming to game development late as we have (despite playing & contributing bits to games for years) has both advantages and disadvantages. On the negative side, we’ve obviously got some catching up to do, and also our gaming tastes are not particularly well aligned with the primary gaming demographic of the 18-30 male.
On the other hand, since we’ve no aim to build a huge mainstream studio, being a bit more niche is no bad thing. I suspect there are lots of others out there (albeit not a majority of the audience) who might enjoy the types of games we do; whether there are enough of them to meet even my smaller overheads, or whether we can build something good enough to satisfy them, are questions still to be answered. 🙂
With such a micro studio setup we’re aware that simplicity is key to getting anything finished. So to start with we’re making simple games, primarily 2D, and aimed at a non-hardcore audience; or at least post-hardcore, which is basically where we are as players anyway. Several of our ideas fall into the category I’d presumptuously describe as “Mid 2000’s Popcap”. If you’re a fanboy/girl of that once-great studio’s output in that time frame, as we absolutely are, you’ll know that tossing that name about so frivilously is probably getting ideas well above our station 😛.
I hate that swathes of the puzzle game market are now assumed to only work as free-to-play mobile titles, in my opinion to their significant detriment. I don’t think it has to be that way, and I’m glad that there are those keeping the flame alive, such as Regency Solitaire and Mini Metro. I hope that, perhaps, we can add something to this niche. Paying for quality, simple games that are unhindered by free-to-play distortions is something I really hope has a future, and I’m betting my own time/money on that ideal, for at least the next couple of years.
If you expected something more high-end and impressive, I’m sorry about that 😉 Our priority is to develop our chops on a few games which we can actually finish. Even simple things take way more time than you think!
That’s not to say 2D puzzle games are all we have in mind. We’d also really like to explore making co-op experiences, something we enjoy a lot as a couple, but have found the flavour we like increasingly hard to find. Many games now insist that you ‘group up’ with more people to play co-op these days, and apply non-scaling difficulty settings that make ‘couple play’ far less enjoyable than it can be.
We have some designs that are either explicity 2-player, or which at least scale with number of players, much like other games like Borderlands (a favourite of ours) did. But, multiplayer is something we won’t be exploring immediately; it’s important to learn to walk before you run, as they say.
We also have an interest in narrative games like 80 Days; we both enjoy writing, and it would be fun to indulge that; in addition such games tend to be a good fit for smaller studios, so something we could tackle earlier on.
Teaser: Washed Up
To finish up, here’s an early teaser shot for our first game, “Washed Up”. The elevator pitch for this game is “Tetris from two sides at once, with pentominoes”.
Blocks are washed up (see what we did there) on the beach on either side of the screen, and you have to arrange them into squares to score points. There is a risk/reward mechanic in that each scoring square you create (the square filling up with water near the middle in the screenshot) takes a little while to complete, during which time you can try to extend it to a larger square area by adding blocks to the outside of it. Successfully forming a larger square rewards you with an exponentially ratcheting score value. However, fail to extend it in time and you’re left with a gaping hole in the middle, potentially made inaccessble by the detritus of blocks around it that you were trying to use to extend it.🙃 Oh, the hubris of over-reaching…
We’re going for a score chasing mechanic and mixing in a few powerups to help you out of a jam. We’re also toying with random goals and special game modes. The visuals are mid-iteration right now, lots more to do.
It’s a fairly simple game but is still taking a lot of time and iteration; no doubt we’ll get better at this as time goes on. Maybe in 5 games time we’ll know what we’re doing. Maybe. 😉