In late 2014, after some small 1- and 2-month freeware experimental game projects, I decided to try my hand at a medium-sized commercial indie game, something I could finish in about a year (famous last words). I sifted through dozens of game ideas I had been jotting down over the years, and finally settled on a roguelike metroidvania platformer idea that combined a few of them. It would use my normal-mapped lighting engine from earlier games, and bring in some ideas I had for modeling weapons based on modular music synthesizers. I started coding at the beginning of 2015, having managed to reduce my workload as a freelance web developer to about 40–50% part-time.
So far it's a one-man project; I've done the programming, art, sound, and game design on it. My strong suit is definitely programming, the rest of it (most would agree) is adequate but not amazing. My dad also contributed some nice background art (he's a painter).
I believe most of my friends and family think I'm wasting my time on this; we'll see if they're correct! I'm really enjoying building it and sharing it with people, and even if it sells zero copies on release I will have done some work I'm proud of and built up some useful skills for future endeavors.
One of the biggest things that has evolved so far is the weapon system; the original design for it, inspired by modular music synthesizers, ended up being super complicated and baffling to nearly everyone who tried it. It had an editable network of parts, with signal wires and projectile tubes snaking in between them, with which you could create essentially electronic circuits to power your weapons. I wouldn't be surprised if it was Turing-complete. It was also stupefyingly complicated and tedious.
In its favor it was super flexible: you could make weird weapons with it like ones that were firing by default and only stopped firing when you held the trigger key. Or ones that toggled on and off with each trigger press. And any number of other weird higher-order combinations.
On the other hand, I found that in the game you actually don't care about most of those esoteric possibilities. You don't need a weird weapon that alternates between 10 different shot types and spits out grated cheese as a snack in between. You just want something that does a lot of damage and offers some unique strategies.
So it evolved; I started tailoring the UI to the kind of weapons that were most useful in-game, in a way that tried to sacrifice as little of the creative possibility as I could. It was useful to know, with the wire-based system, the kinds of possibilities that were interesting, so maybe it made sense as a prototyping effort. But I might have done it on paper and figured that out in a lot less time.
The way I initially did the batteries was way too complex too, even in the new UI, and eventually got iterated and improved (as an act of mercy on my playtesters) into the simpler add-it-up battery gauge approach that's there now.
The game was still pretty rough, so I didn't want to inflict it on my friends too much, but some paid playtesters on fiverr.com were really helpful in iterating and sanding off the sharp edges (thanks especially to fristoker). A lot of things were blocking people from just getting into and understanding the game.
I learned a huge amount about just how much work and iteration is needed to get an end product that is easy to use and intuitive; when you see these things out in the world you sometimes get the feeling they were dropped down from heaven fully-formed by geniuses; since going through all this iteration and overcoming of sticking points I've grown a new appreciation for how much time and effort must go in to making things “just work” (or an appreciation that I'm not a genius).
Since then it's been lots of iterations of adding features, items, enemies, obstacles, rooms, levels, tweaking graphics, music, etc. The history page has some earlier builds if you're curious, although if the game is headed in the right direction they'll be less interesting than the current one. I've got hundreds if not thousands of potential ideas (including many good ones from players) most of which will never see the light of day, unfortunately, but I'm looking forward to taking a shot at the best of them in the coming months.
If you want to follow future developments, check out the blog; there's an email-subscribe feature where you can sign up to hear about about new game builds and behind-the-scenes stuff. And as always, feedback and ideas are appreciated! Feel free to email me or get involved with feature requests / bug reports on the forum.
© 2018 Luke Rissacher
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