Developing an Indie Video Game...On SteroidS

If you've been following me these past years on Renderosity, you know I've been into animation, filmmaking, and storytelling in general. Now, I'm an indie game developer. Last year, I spent several months gathering information and laying out a plan for a games company. Long story short: I'd decided to change the direction of my animation studio and get into game development instead. The name of the indie studio is The Domaginarium.

I've been writing about the experience of opening and running an indie game development studio on my Gamasutra blog, and it's an interesting read if you want a wider picture of what The Domaginarium is and how it's being shaped. In this article, I will discuss a little about our first game, SteroidS, how we designed it, and its "pizza-budget game development." You shouldn’t consider this a “post-mortem,” since it’s still too early to write one, and it’s more meant to give you an overview of the SteroidS development process.

Designing SteroidS

The first question is, "what is SteroidS?" SteroidS is simply an Asteroids-like game - you shoot stuff and try to get a high score. That's one of the oldest gameplay mechanics available, but it's still used in widely-known games (for example, Geometry Wars). So, I could pretty much say SteroidS is Geometry Wars without the glowing shapes and fireworks, but with big-head dudes and frenetic gameplay speeds, thanks to the "steroids boost."

This may sound like the least original game ever, but again that would mean all games sharing the Asteroids mechanics are equally lacking originality. In my opinion, an original and "innovative" game doesn't need to come up with a gameplay mechanic nobody's ever heard about, but rather use available mechanics in an original way. For SteroidS, the twist here is the use of the steroids gun to shoot your enemies, as it gives them a boost of speed after every shot (the "steroids boost"). The faster they move, the more dangerous they become, and the harder they are to defeat.

Everything else we added (and will add in the future) revolves around that basic idea. For example, there are the basic power ups that let you kill all enemies on the screen, get one life, and in this upcoming version there's the "BSG" that lets you defeat any enemy with only one shot (this and all future updates are free to those who buy the game).

With the basic idea, the next step was to make a prototype and then polish it until we got something that was playable and worked. SteroidS has 6 different game modes (you can read about them on the website), so each of those modes had to be prototyped before going into production.

Developing SteroidS

SteroidS was developed under a "pizza budget." This means we were trying to develop the game using the lowest investment possible.

If you read my Gamasutra blog, you'll know we used UDK to develop SteroidS. UDK stands for Unreal Development Kit, and it's a "free" version of Epic's Unreal Engine 3. I used quotes because it's free to use, but if you want to develop commercial games, you have to pay $99.00 for the license, and then pay 25% royalty on your net revenue, after your revenue is above $50,000 (which, if you ask me, is a good deal if you want to keep your costs as low as possible, although there are some free engines available too, but I will not get into that). UDK is a very good option for those wanting a feature-rich game engine, but don't want to spend a lot of money.

UDK gives you access to Epic's powerful tools: an amazing graphics engine, Unreal Kismet (a visual scripting tool similar to the Maya Hypershade or Softimage ICE), Unreal Script, particle systems, and many others. Those tools (especially Unreal Kismet) made developing SteroidS a very easy task (more than half of what you see happening on the screen is completely managed by Kismet). There are also a few good resources for UDK (mostly because the UnrealEd has been out since the Unreal Tournament years), from the UDN (Unreal Developer Network) to forums and websites, which proved very valuable during the development of SteroidS.

For the content (models and animation), we used Maya mostly, but Softimage is definitely my weapon of choice for UV mapping since its toolset is far superior in my opinion. MotionBuilder was used for the animations, and Photoshop for the textures. This is purely by choice, as you can use any tool you have at your disposal, and I happened to own the Autodesk licenses already. I've written many reviews on Autodesk products, so you already know why I've chosen them over any other 3D app.

You see the SteroidS graphics are very simple, but to tell the truth, thanks to the game's nature, it doesn't need to raise the bar graphically (we used to say we didn't want the arcade shooter with the most photorealistic big headed characters running around). Besides, complex graphics would be more expensive to produce, since they take more time, work, and people (which we don’t have right now).

The game took around 3 months to be developed, with a crew of 2 people (me included) working full time. That includes designing the original idea, building a prototype, testing it, and building the complete game afterwards.

At the same time, the game design is very open, so we will add more things down the line, as long as they fit the basic concept.

I have to say we managed to develop the game in such a short time thanks to different things. The game mechanics are pretty simple and were defined right from the start, the art style was very quick to produce and is very forgiving, and UDK is very easy to use (after you learn how to actually do something with it, of course).

This doesn't mean we could develop a "crappy game" because it was simple, but spending 1 or 2 years making a simple Asteroids-like game doesn't make much sense (especially since we were working full time). 3 to 5 months for a first version of a game like this makes sense in my opinion (I say first version because, as I've already stated, SteroidS will get more updates, features and such).

Distribution

Indies can distribute their games using online stores (like Steam, GamersGate, and such). SteroidS is currently available on Indievania, which is an open platform, but I’m contacting other stores so they sell the game as well, reaching a wider audience. The best of all is that we don’t need to deal with retail distribution, packages, inventories and such. Someone on Gamasutra was asking me to discuss about the online distribution platforms on a future post of my “Building an indie studio” series, but I need more experience with other distribution platforms before I can do that.

Final words

Besides SteroidS, we're also working on another game, titled Parasite. This is a larger and more complex system (game). Parasite is basically a third person game, but it combines different elements that define it more like an adventure game than an action shooter, and we've been working on it for around 10 months (that’s a completely different story from SteroidS). However, SteroidS is a game that shows you don't have to develop a complex system that provides a unique experience to be entertaining.

I’ve heard some people speak of how they want to get into game development, and how some indies may have inspired them to try to make a game. By reading of my experiences, you can realize you don’t need insane resources to do it. Maybe you will never become “the indie of the hour,” announcing his game sold 4 million units (like Minecraft), but being an indie is, in a way, about keeping risks low, and making enough money to continue working on games.

You can buy SteroidS on Indievania for $5.99, and there’s also a demo version in case you want to try it first. As I said, the game will be updated regularly, so you will get all updates for free when they become available. We do welcome input from the gamers, so feel free to visit the SteroidS Facebook page, too.

System requirements

  • OS: Windows XP/Vista/7
  • Processor: 1 Ghz Dual-Core CPU
  • Memory: 512Mb RAM (1Gb RAM if you're on Windows Vista/7)
  • Hard Disk Space: 600MB
  • Video Card: Graphics Card with Shader Model 3 support, 512 MB video memory
  • DirectX┬«: 9.0c
  • Sound: DirectSound-compatible sound device

For more information, please visit:


Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.

 

 

 


November 28, 2011

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