Here you can find a couple of the other projects I’ve worked on. They’re conceptual endeavors for the most part and should not be taken as finished products.
You can play it here, if the servers are still up.
Atom’s Eve (AE) was made midway through development of Iron Vice. The arena-shooter that was Iron Vice‘s current form wasn’t panning out and the company felt directionless. AE was born out of the desire to escape Iron Vice‘s seemingly massive scope and to simply complete something.
Total development time was two weeks, with a couple days tacked on at the end for post-launch bug fixes. I was responsible for all design, art, sfx, and music.
The conceit of the game is simple: Name and place your city on the earth. Build nukes by placing extractors (a simple game of hot and cold), then launch those nukes at other, real players to kill their population and get money which can then be spent on upgrading things like nuke/extractor capacity, build time, etc.
Not an ambitious game by any stretch of the imagination, but a valuable lesson in developing, testing, and “shipping” a game within a strict timeline. In all honesty, this game was probably closer to Kongregate’s general market than Iron Vice was.
With 2 weeks of dev time and literally no promotion, Atom’s Eve clawed out a 3/5 rating and ~6k plays. With 3.5+ years of development and significant promotion on Kongregate’s end, Iron Vice received a 4/5 rating and ~50k plays. There are other, crucial stats that I’m omitting (ave. play time, ARPU, captured users, etc.) but the point is that, when making something, it’s just as important to know who you’re making it for as it is knowing what you’re making.
This sounds like obvious stuff, but it can be oh-so-easy to fall into the “Build it and they will come” mentality, particularly when developing inside a bubble and without adequate QA.
- Know your market
- The game will take you literally twice as long as you think (AE was slated for a week turnaround)
- Be sure to account for scale-able screen sizes or you’ll end up with that UI nightmare up there in the GIF.
- There has to be an objective, even if it’s largely symbolic/meaningless. (AE didn’t have one. Cue many comments of “What am I supposed to be doing?”)
- Beta test your shit. Seriously.
- Games (AE and IV) built on custom engines and unstable tech (WebGL) are unwieldy and time-consuming to test. Both platform and browser have to be considered. In some cases even OS.
While it was refreshing to tackle a game with such a dearth of mechanical depth, simpler games have a whole host of issues unique to them. The central mechanic of building and firing nukes needed more fleshing out, and we should have had some sort of lofty goal to reach (i.e. 20m kills nets you a gold city marker or something). I think there’s a skeleton here for a more compelling game but it was a very valuable learning experience, for what it was.
After Iron Vice launched, we were looking for our next game to make. Prior to radical changes, IV had started off as a riff on popular browser game Realm of the Mad God. Realm X was a short-lived attempt at that same MMO bullet-hell pursuit, though this time with the experience and insight the last 3.5 years had given us.
Unfortunately, this is also when the financial woes of the company started making themselves readily apparent. The thought was we would make a quick prototype, then try and garner some additional funds through a desperate Steam Greeenlight/Kickstarter combo.
Too little, too late, unfortunately.
For what it’s worth, Realm X was shaping up to be pretty neat. We had a relatively extensive equipment system, with a wide array of weapons and wearable armor. Enemy variety was decent and had interesting bullet patterns to boot. What’s more, since the game was 2D pixel art, I could flex my 2D muscle that had been languishing in the 3D shadow of Iron Vice.
Due to the change in art style, I was able to make 60 tile types, 24 decals, 9 props, 24 weapons, 18 enemies, and a player character (with accompanying animations for each) inside of Realm X‘s 4 week dev time. To say it was liberating would be a vast understatement.
Design-wise, we didn’t get too far beyond the game’s Realm of the Mad God roots. The island on which the game takes place was randomly generated and was comprised by 3 ring-shaped biomes. Each biome had a level range and enemies with identical ranges would spawn in the corresponding biome. The outermost ring, the beach, featured level 1 and 2 pigs while the snowy biome in the middle of the island featured level 15-20 enemies such as fire imps and evil priests.
Each enemy type had both a “mob” and “boss” variant. The boss variant would serve as quest objectives, with the level of the player simply being matched up to the boss of analogous level. A compass orbiting the player would point in the direction of the boss.
In addition to the art, I was also responsible for most designer duties: Player and enemy weapon creation/balancing, enemy squad placement/composition, and all other general variables (configuring AI, player progression, etc.). The programmers would build the systems and architecture and I would implement it. I also helped design the format of the .js files themselves to facilitate their creation and maintenance.
If there’s anything that sucked about this system, it’s that archetype IDs of enemies, weapons, and groups had to be set manually. Extensive use of copy/paste on my part meant that, when compiling the client, there would oft be duplicate IDs. Annoying when dealing with long compile times.
Realm X was doomed from the start. Without adequate funding/time to produce a truly compelling prototype, both publishers and platforms like Kickstarter were out of reach. I think we all knew this, to some extent, but the failure of Iron Vice had inspired us to create something new… dire financial situations be damned. Realm X was the penultimate requiem for Black Tower Entertainment and the last actual “game” that was implemented on an art and programming level.
- Know when to cut your losses
- Prior to starting a project, know if you have the funds/time to see it through (obvious, yes, but desperation/frustration/desire-to-create-something-new can easily cloud judgement)
- Ease of development cultivates creativity
- 2D animation is practically the same as 3D animation, just with fewer variables.
- 2D animation program Spine is really friggin’ cool, but Norton Antivirus thinks it’s full of malware and will automatically quarantine the .exe and .dll files (this caused me a lot of headache).
There’s not a whole lot substantial content to get into here, as Blood Feud never got beyond a relatively well-crafted pitch document. For what it’s worth, I’ll post a download link to said pitch doc below and detail the basics of the game concept. I wrote the game section of the pitch, while Alex and Andrew really pulled out all the stops for the business section. Major props to them for that.
Blood Feud was meant to be our take on what we called the “Societal Survival MMO.” Games like Rust or Osiris: New Dawn that put bunches of players in an open world with one simple rule: survive. The idea was to leverage the skills and technologies that BTE had forged with past multiplayer and action game attempts to create our “dream game.”
I wanted to build a game that would explore the formation and destruction of relationships based on an ever present external pressure. In Blood Feud‘s case, that external pressure took the form of sustenance (of varying types, depending on your chosen race).
There were 3 playable species to choose from: Human, Vampire, and Lycans. Humans were the most versatile, able to eat most anything and synthesize special skill potions from the remains of vampires and lycans. Meanwhile, vampires can drink the blood of the other 2 races. Lycans, on the other hand, had to inflict damage on any living creature in order to support themselves.
The rules were a little bit more complex than above, but the idea was that there was always something to gain by killing someone else. My hope was that I could get diverse communities and cliques to form by setting up nuanced relationships between the three races. Maybe you join a strict “humans only” cult and eke out an existence tending crops in the woods, terrified of the other roaming blood suckers and beasts. Perhaps instead you forge an alliance between all three races to take advantage of their unique abilities: Humans for their adaptability, vampires for the predilection to stealth, and lycans for their massive strength, and become a feared band of multi-species highwaymen.
However, no matter the strength of the relationship, I wanted an ever present source of tension. Creating this tension required real stakes for individual players when they perished, along with large benefits for turning on their fellow man.
The idea of creeds was cooked up to help incentivize this desired constant tumult, as well as lend an overall structure to the game. Serving as the leveling/character advancement system, creeds tasked players with fulfilling various actions that would destabilize their relationships with other players. Actions such as stealing from an ally, killing an ally, killing someone you had just traded with, etc. would grant creed points that could be spent to unlock new abilities. There would be various creeds that would cater to specific play styles, such as a stealthy, thieving creed, a PvP creed, and so on.
Creed and class would be locked upon character creation, meaning that, for the duration of that character’s existence, they would be bound by the rules and objectives in place by those two variables. Ideally, this would result in players with a wide range of play styles and objectives.
There would be a relatively in-depth base building and crafting system, enemy mobs to hunt and salvage, dungeons to loot and pillage, and a loose narrative to follow; all wrapped up in a modern Gothic world landscape of thick forests, desolate towns, and blasted wastelands. The game would be a top-down 2D pixel affair with bullet hell combat.
This all sounds well and good, if not a bit excessive in scope. I still have faith in the basic idea though, and would one day like to see Blood Feud become a reality, even if it were thematically divorced from the above concept. It presents so many fascinating design conundrums that I can’t help but get excited just thinking about potential solutions to all of them.
Alas, one day.
Personal Takeaways: (Mostly just advice from other successful devs who have pitched in the past)
- When writing a game pitch, describe not the exact design details, but rather cool hypothetical concepts and scenarios. Investors don’t care about specific stats and leveling ratios. 🙁
- The business section is just as, if not more, important than the game section. Draw favorable, yet realistic, comparisons to your genre contemporaries.
- Probably a good idea to keep your pitch sub 20 pages.