Long time, no news: here’s what’s next for Halcyon Softworks

It’s been over a year since I’ve posted here but I’d like to start posting more frequently with development news, design observations, and such. To give some background on my inactivity, I was working on a Zelda-style RPG around November to January but it wasn’t going anywhere so I started learning Android and then worked on a couple of Android apps for income. Then, in March while I should have been paying attention in class I was struck with an idea to remake my first game, and began planning in the ensuing weeks. In April I started work on the complete remake of Slick I planned. It’d be released on Steam and current-gen consoles (if the opportunity arose) and would be titled Slick Remastered. This remake would/does include completely redone and higher resolution graphics (though using the same but slightly modified 4-color palette as the original), animation, gameplay, levels, and new content such as new characters with different properties, a level editor, an actual story, more variety in the gameplay, an overworld for each world, etc. It was becoming a much larger project than I originally anticipated it would be, just as the original was (I talk about this in my postmortem of the original Slick).

Progress was going pretty well, and it was pretty evident how much better I’ve gotten at programming, art, design, and attention to detail. However, personal finances started to become an issue and the heavy desire to not suffer at a “real” job prompted me to develop more Android apps for income since the game wouldn’t be ready for release for quite a while. I mulled over the idea of Steam Early Access but ultimately haven’t decided if that’s a good idea or not. Over the span of a few months (mostly over summer break) I published over 20 apps on the Play store that are now bringing in enough cash to keep afloat, pay my personal expenses, and then some. While it’s tempting to further increase this stream of income by continuing app development, I just don’t find it very enjoyable (game development has jaded as far as how fun programming and design is) and I’ve run dry of new, plausible ideas because of this.

So what does this mean for the future? A number of things, really. The way I see it I have several options and I’m just not sure which one is the “best” choice as far as my own enjoyment and possibility of going full time post-college. Let’s go over the cons and pros of these options, in some particular order.

I can continue work on Slick Remastered. If I don’t do so now, I absolutely will do so in the future. The pros of doing this are that I really enjoy working on the game and I think it has a ton of potential. The cons are that it’s a huge undertaking and wouldn’t be ready for quite a while.

I can remake my game Reflector for Steam and title it Reflector Remastered. The original went under the radar upon release, selling only a couple hundred, but I think that’s due to the timing of its release rather than the quality of the game. I got this idea while showing the game to a friend, and immediately I could imagine how it would look and feel if I were to remake it. It’d be completely different from the original as far as setting and art direction goes. The original had a satirical plot (or lack thereof) but I’d probably go with a cyberpunk setting and a world to explore if I were to remake it. I’d also include a level editor and the architecture necessary to share levels, along with new content and puzzle elements (the original only had reflectors and portals). Given that the original took only a week or so to develop, I can’t see this taking that long to make. Maybe a few months. More than likely, this is the option I will go with.

I could start a new game rather than remake my old ones, or revive one of my several scrapped projects that no details or screenshots were ever released about. The problem with this is that it could take a while to get something developed that’s high-quality enough for Steam. I wanted to make a few small games for XBLIG, but we all know there wouldn’t be a good return on investment on that platform. Not now, anyway. I also wouldn’t have anything complete to work off of like I would if I remade one of my older games.

I could port my game SUPER SPRINT COMMANDO EXTREME to mobile devices. I think it’d work well on them, seeing as it’s basically a one-button game. The problem with this is I have no experience with mobile game development, so it’d require learning. If I were to use MonoGame (the framework that I use now) for mobile then I’d also have to pay for expensive licenses and could end up wasting time and money if it flopped.

Lastly I could continue app development, but as I said earlier I just don’t find that enjoyable anymore. With apps there’s a high potential for a good return on investment, but also a high potential for no return on investment at all. I’d say it’s not worth the risk.

Regardless of whatever I decide to go with, I want to start being a lot more transparent and open with my game development rather than be a black box. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting screenshots of whatever I’m working on at the moment and post about anything I find worth posting about. Come to think of it, I should also get an actual domain name.

/endwalloftext

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SUPER SPRINT COMMANDO EXTREME

New, awesome game, developed in slightly over a month! Check it out 😀

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/SUPER-SPRINT-COMMANDO-EXTREME/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550db2

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Reflector

I made a game in slightly less than two weeks! Check it out!

http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Reflector/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258550d82

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Postmortem: Slick

Intro

It’s been a little over a month since Slick was initially released on Xbox Live Indie Games, and I thought now would be a good time to reflect on what went right and what went wrong during its development and marketing, or lack thereof.

What Went Right?

Exponential Increase in Scope

Whenever an aspiring developer asks how they should start out, they are always told to start small. This is great advice, but I am so glad I didn’t take it. The original design document for Slick entailed a short game of about 30 levels with no enemies, only one world, no frills, and generally no thrills. This was completely overhauled and I decided to have a whopping 100 levels, 5 worlds, somewhere around 20 different enemies, and an original soundtrack.

Engine & Tools

Another thing that aspiring developers are always told is to not reinvent what’s already been made, and of course I disregarded that as well and made my own engine and level editor, because I felt it was extremely important to learn as much as possible. A good reasoning behind doing this is that I now had control over everything.  Once the basis of the engine was made the rest was smooth sailing, and it was simple to add new enemies.

Originally, levels were made in text files, and various symbols would represent different tiles.  I quickly realized that this simply would not work for 100 levels and many tiles, so I made my own “what you see is what you get” level editor that handled multiple layers, collision, enemy, and object placement among other things. I also made sure that it would only take a day or so to make the level editor, and that it wouldn’t become bloated with unnecessary features.

Another great thing about making my own engine and tools is that I’m now reusing them in my next game with only a few changes needed and many upgrades made.

Level Design & Difficulty

Having been a competetive gamer since an early age I knew from the start that I wanted to make a difficult game, and I also knew from the start that I didn’t want to have any tutorials holding your hand that would slow down the actual game. A lot of the level design silently teaches the player how stuff works without blatantly telling them, and when I watched other people play the game, they never didn’t know what to do or how something worked. Right from the start you can just play the game without sitting through an unnecessary tutorial. Even in the menus there isn’t a lot of text explaining what options do, but instead there are symbols that are universally recognized (e.g. arrow means play) which makes the game more accessible to players who don’t natively speak English.

Slick is a very difficult game, but the levels are only a single screen, the player respawns almost instantly, and there are no lives. The difficulty of the game and its level design isn’t unfair, and when the player dies it is almost certainly their own fault for messing up, and not the game’s.

Lone Wolfing

When starting independent game development, many people like to form teams to make games, but I decided that I would rather do it by myself until I have the credentials for people to want to work with me. It was a good choice to do this because I don’t need to worry about revenue sharing, communication, and other problems that often come up with teams that are scattered around the world. Not to mention, by doing everything aside from the music I gained an immeasurable amount of experience.

What Went Wrong?

Not Listening to Testers

One huge failure point is that I didn’t fix what my testers said was broken, aside from completely game breaking bugs. From the beginning I was constantly told that the collision on a few enemies and spikes was a bit off among other things. For some reason I had an elitist “well, what do you know?” attitude, but if I actually took my testers’ advice I would’ve nipped any problems reviewers had in the bud.  I’ve since patched most of these problems, but I feel the game would have been much more well received if I had fixed these problems before the initial release.

Social Networking

I had this idea in my head that if I released this game then everyone would tell their friends about it and it’d become popular by word of mouth. This was far from the truth and I didn’t even have a Twitter or Youtube trailer of gameplay. Not until a few days after the release did I make a Twitter, and I should have uploaded a gameplay video on Youtube prior to release. I also didn’t have my own website, or really any online presence for that matter.

Lack of Game Modes

In Slick, the only thing you can do is play through the 100 levels one level at a time, and so if you can’t beat a level, you’re stuck. But looking back, the way the game teaches the player through its level design, it would be difficult to suddenly make the level selection non-linear, and so I should have included other modes for added replayability such as time trials with leaderboards. Modes like this would have been a great addition to the game because if a player got stuck then they could always go back to previous levels but with different objectives instead of quitting in frustration.

Post-release Infatuation

Even now when Slick has been out for over a month I’m still obsessive about constantly Googling “Slick XBLIG review” to see what people are saying about it, when a better thing to do would be to check once a week and instead focus time on my next game. While it’s great to see people praising it, the time could definitely be spent on bigger and better things.

Final Thoughts & The Future

I’m most definitely proud of what I accomplished because it’s something I’ve wanted to do since forever, and I now know for sure that I’ll be making games for the rest of my life. Slick has left me with an engine and editor that my next game is based off of, and has also reaped an immeasurable amount of experience for me.

As far as the future goes, I’ll use all that I learned from developing and marketing Slick to make sure the rest of my games are of an exponentially higher quality, and will also continue lone wolfing it for (possibly) quite a while.

Game Data

Developer: Halcyon Softworks
Number of developers: 1
Length of development: 3 months
Release date: July 24, 2012 (XBLIG), August 21, 2012 (Desura)
Platforms: Xbox LIVE Indie Games, Desura (Windows)
Development software used: Visual C# Express 2010, XNA Game Studio 4.0, GIMP 2.6, bfxr
Cans of Mountain Dew consumed: Countless

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Slick released on Desura

http://www.desura.com/games/slick

Slick is now officially available on the PC distributor Desura.  Go check it out!

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Slick Patch #1 Released

Patch #1 for Slick has been published and should be up within an hour of this post.  You should automatically be prompted to update when playing the game next.

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Slick Patch Notes

Overview

This patch should fix a number of problems that a number of people had with Slick.  Due to the way releases are handled by Microsoft it could take a while before it’s up.

General

  • Added sliders for sound effect and music volume accessible from the main menu.
  • Slightly increased thumbstick sensitivity.
  • Optimized map files to decrease size.
  • Slightly increased running speed to make certain jumps a tad easier while not having much of an effect on the other parts of the game.
  • “Start” button will now confirm input on menus.
  • Decreased collision box on spiked turtles down to the same as any other turtle.

Bug Fixes

  • Unpausing the game will no longer cause you to jump if you’re on the ground.

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