The Home Stretch
I swear I can see the finish line up ahead. If you squint, you can just make it out. It's there, I assure you. As we approach the launch of our second mobile title, Vex Blocks, I can’t help but get excited at the prospect of putting our finished product in front of people. Now I know...I know - there’s still a never-ending amount of work to be done from testing to marketing, to more testing, continued marketing, then the tweaking followed by testing, then some testing...but my point is we’re nearing that final stage before our launch. There’s light at the end of the tunnel and I swear the faintest scent of cinnamon buns. The burndown chart and the task list is at the point where you can at least realistically imagine the launch day, even if it’s still a few weeks away, instead of just dreaming about it happening at some point in the future like flying cars or super-intelligent, faithful monkey servants. It feels good, like an imaged back rub from said imaginary monkey servants.
Our first title, Itzy3d was and still is well received by gamers even if it didn’t exactly race up the charts. However, our inexperience developing games led to a bit of a rollercoaster ride creating the title. Initial performance hurdles, an over complicated control scheme and simply learning the pitfalls of Unity3d/IOS/Android development made the experience of working on Itzy3d a rocky one. Still, despite it’s shortcomings I can to this day sit back, fire it up and lose myself in the game and take pride in our first outing as an indie game developer.
Vex Blocks’ development wasn’t nearly as up and down and even though I still thoroughly enjoyed working on Itzy3d I find I’ve had much more fun working on our upcoming action/puzzler. If I’m going to lock myself in my office and gamble mine and my family’s future working on videogames full time, at least I know I’m doing it with a smile on my face. The anxiety filled nights haven’t entirely gone away, but I’m far more confident in what we can accomplish this time out, and there’s a few reasons for that.
The first is a matter of scope. When we started Itzy3d we had no idea how long tasks would take us to complete and as such, creating Itzy the spider’s world became a much more ambitious project than we had anticipated. When planning Vex Blocks we were able to estimate what we could accomplish in our given time frame with far more accuracy than we had with Itzy3d. We started with a simpler concept so the development schedule didn’t become like Crawmerax the Invincible....lobster-like, purple, one-eyed and nearly impossible to beat at our current skill level. Feeling that our goals were attainable within our time frame from the start did wonders for the ole confidence level.
The second major boost to all around enjoyment levels on Vex was having the artwork more or less completed when we started. Vex Blocks was a concept I dreamt up a couple of years ago and it was initially given to a group of students consisting of three artists and two programmers from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology to build a prototype for us while providing them with a final project for graduation. Having a willing group of artists working under my instruction provided us the opportunity to start with a completed list of art assets when the prototype was eventually turned back over to our team. In contrast, Itzy’s artwork hit a wall when our main artist found himself unable to contribute the time necessary to create the assets required for 3 of our 11 huge levels. It also left us with zero assets for our menus and ultimate left us with menus that looked like they had been designed by programmers. Starting the project with almost every art asset we could conceive was a huge load off my mind as I knew my Maya and Photoshop skills would not be tested as rigorously as I scrambled to fill in the blanks with my limited artistic ability.
And the biggest difference this time out was experience with Unity3d. We know what works, what doesn't, where our graphical ceiling is for mobile, how to implement sounds more efficiently, how to create an asset pool, the GUI bottlenecks, the performance tweaks, the ongoing mobile testing during development to make sure our mobile performance is where it should be and isn’t biting us in the ass, lighting, texturing, shaders...you name it. Having the ability to predict where we may run into problems and addressing those issues before they became serious instead of charging full ahead into the unknown is a much more relaxed way to develop a game in my opinion. Who knew?
So this time out it’s all about making the game fun, challenging and having a blast doing it. As our cycle on this game nears it’s end I can’t wait to see how the game will do in testing and it’s eventual launch. The thought of others enjoying our work as much as we enjoy building and playing ourselves is all the reward we need. Well...and monetary compensation. All the reward we need is seeing others enjoying our work and money. That sounds about right.