Creating a 2D Game with Unity

With the surge the next-gen consoles and the scramble to get on Steam hovering over indie devs as we enter 2014, many studios are turning to Unity as their development platform.

The problem? There’s not a lot of tutorials explaining how to best use Unity to create 2D games.

The folks over at Pixelnest Studio created an awesome tutorial working through the basics of Unity to create a simple 2D game. Even better, the folks over at Game Dev Nation took this tutorial and created a video series for those of you who like to sit down with a bowl of popcorn instead of click through pages.

Here’s the links for both the text and video tutorials:

Text tutorial at Pixelnest Studios:
http://pixelnest.io/tutorials/2d-game-unity/

Video tutorial at Game Dev Nation:
http://gamedevnation.com/creating-a-2d-game-with-unity/

The Dreaded Ten Percent

This is our experience with trying to push Produce Wars through the last ten percent of production. Please send me an e-mail or contact me on Twitter to tell me about the last ten percent of your game.

Every game developer knows what it is. The experienced ones plan for it. The big studios sometimes pretend it doesn’t exist, but it does.

The last ten percent.

FezIt’s that point you get to in game development where the game is ready to go, but it’s not perfect. There’s just a couple of those things nagging on you that make you want to tear the entire game apart and start over. Most independent game developers are familiar with the neurotic five-year journey that Fez took from inception to launch, and how the game mired in the infamous ten percent for at least a year before it was released.

2012-01-16-the-last-ten-percentIt’s not just in gaming either. Rumors have it that during post-production director Tony Kaye tried to sabotage American History X because he didn’t feel like it was ready for release. The film went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed films of all-time.

We are currently at this point with Produce Wars.

We have been at this point for the last three months. While it has been incredibly frustrating, it has also been incredibly educational. We had considered pushing Produce Wars out the door in early January because the frustration had built up so much that we had become sick of the game. In fact, we could have released a fully playable version of the game in October.

Yes, like five months ago.

It’s a good thing we didn’t though. A month ago, we sat down to play test with a couple of people who had never seen the game before to get their raw and painfully honest perspective about where we were at. This play test session was revolutionary, because it revealed to us just how far away from making a complete game we were.

Many of the stages had unrealistic expectations of the player’s skill. Up to that point, the only person that had significantly tested the stages was…well, me. Not only did I design all 95 stages in the game, but I have been testing and working with Produce Wars for almost a year now. Because of this, the difficulty was heavily skewed towards “throw the controller at your cat” instead of “cat sitting on lap purring happily and gouging your thighs with its claws”. Either way, you’re pissed at the cat, but we don’t want you to be pissed at our game.

controller catThis led to the complete redesign of almost half of the stages in the game, a balancing of the shot values for players to earn certain medals, and a gazillion other small upgrades that we would have overlooked had we released the game early.

I mean, we had a friggin’ typo on our main menu that none of us saw for six months.

It made us understand how necessary the last ten percent is, no matter how frustrating it may be. Seriously vetting your game before release could be the difference between a hit and a flop. Even if your game isn’t the next Fez, Braid, Spelunky, or Super Meat Boy, the effort you put into the last ten is subconsciously appreciated by the player.

Perception is often greater than reality. If the player perceives quality, it often times can mask many of the inherent flaws that your game inevitably has. It’s not to say that if your game is crap, you can sell on appearance alone (you can’t polish a turd, so they say). But low lighting and appropriate make-up can get even the ugliest of girls a one night stand (thanks for the help here Jenna Marbles).

And for gamers, that’s what cheap indie games are: a one-night stand.

Produce Wars Box ArtYou can create this quality by paying close attention to detail and being cautious about launch. At some point though, you have to strike that balance between improving and moving on. That girl isn’t waking up in another person’s bed unless she puts herself out there, and the same is true with your indie game. You have to find a way to cut yourself loose from the ten percent and get the darn thing published.

So our promise is that Produce Wars will get published. We’ve been on the treadmill for long enough, and we’re almost ready to put ourselves out there. We’ve officially defined the remainder of our improvements so that there is no more feature creep, no more surprises.

Produce Wars is coming soon. No doubt about that one.

Please send me an e-mail at gigaloth@gmail.com, or shoot me a message on Twitter. I want to hear your experience with the last ten percent of your game!

Simple Tips for Rookie Indie Game Developers

Most indie developers tend to hyper-focus on making their game, and making it exactly perfect, or at least “not selling out” to make some money. Unfortunately if you actually want to continue spending hours of your time on this, and you want to make money off of your game, you must do some things that help get the word out there and get people talking about it. Here are a few tips that we have on doing so.

1) Make it Look Good

The most important thing you can do for a game is to make sure it looks and feels good to play. That doesn’t mean you need it to look like Skyrim or have the most intuitive control scheme in the world, but you need to make sure that it doesn’t leave the player with a huge headache. The graphics quality should be represented on your box art and other promotional materials for the game. You may not be the best graphic designer in the world, and you don’t have to be, but we highly suggest finding somebody to add to your team that can give you that edge.

2) Extras

Something indie developers often look over is the opportunity to expand the range of their IP, or piggy backing off of somebody else’s, featuring characters or the like from other developer’s games. Writing e-books or doing interesting or funny web videos that can be companion content to your game is also really valuable, it shows you care about your project and you understand that its more than just a game that was a hobby project. Remember to apply the first tip here, make these this look good, and make them high quality. Put effort into your extras and make them look professional. Be creative and try things that haven’t been done, or even look to AAA developers and see what they are doing and how you can translate that down to the indie level.

3) Blogging and Social Networking

Among other web content, these two things are some of the most important things you can do. First, blogging. When you blog you need to make sure your content is diverse. Don’t only write about your own projects. Do reviews of other indie games, try and do interviews with other developers, or write commentaries about other articles. Make it interesting to read. It might be cynical, but you must assume, to begin with, that nobody cares about you or your game. Again piggy back off of other peoples reputation, and work hard to build your own. As far as social networking goes Twitter and Facebook will be your best friends. Twitter is where you will start to build connections with other developers, reviewers, and people interested in the indie game industry itself and its a great place to build reputation and a network of people to tap into to find reviews and interviews to do. As far as Facebook goes its a great tool beyond just networking, which we will discuss later.

4) Team

Now you might be going, “your team has nothing to do with marketing or getting your name out there” and maybe you’d have some valid points, but I’m here to tell you that your team has everything to do with marketing. You might be a one man team, and if that is the case you have a lot of work cut out for you, as the saying goes two heads are better than one. We strongly encourage you to build a team of people dedicated to your project. I encourage you to work on building a team. This team should be of like minded individuals with different skill sets. Find some good artists, good game programers, and good web developers. Somebody who can organize your social marketing and other promotional items, perhaps even a writer to help with your extra content, maybe even a video guy and even consider a music composer.

5) Patience and Perseverance

This might not be directly related to game development, but it shines through to everything that you do. The attitude and mindset in which your write and respond to people, and all the various writings and blogs you do will leak into your content. Stay upbeat and stay excited, and keep having fun. You will get stressed, but when you sit down to communicate or write stuff, make sure you leave all of that at the door. People want your enthusiasm and will cling to your message when you do it in an inspired mindset.

6) Track It, Test It, Improve It

There are many tools in which you can track your effectiveness and your reach. Coming up with creative ways to use Facebook’s page insights, the stats on WordPress, YouTube’s stats, or even using Google Analytics, you can track your page views and see what types of things people are responding the most to, and you can then change your tactics to capitalize on those things, but you should keep trying new ideas as well, you never know when the next one will explode. Another tool to help you decide what things to make or how to improve your content is the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, if used creatively. You can use it to figure out new article topics, or how to word things to optimize your search engine results. All of these tools are free and provide you with really great information.

7) Stay Organized

This goes beyond marketing, and into project management itself. Know where resources are, track your progress well, stay in constant communication with your team so you know whats new and whats going on. Put things in a logical order, so if somebody else needs to find it or change it, they can do it without needing to be dependent on any one person for too much, its ease of mind and work flow and you will get done with your projects much faster.

That’s it. Just a few tips to consider and think about while making your games. Remember, this advice is from a first time developer, and we are sure to learn more and refine and add to this list, but the lessons we have already learned should prove to be be invaluable to any other first time developer. Please let us know what you think, if you have any comments or feedback at all, let us know, and if you find this information valuable share it with your network and team.

Hit us up on Twitter for more info or to comment on this article.

The Future of Free-to-Play on XBOX

Now published on Gamasutra! Please click through the link to plug me some page views.

Microsoft now has its hand in the only two free-to-play games on the XBOX 360. Is this a growing trend or an anomaly?

I remember when I first saw it.

Mass Effect 3 Avenger Predator PinkI was dipping into Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer on my XBOX 360 for the first time. It was probably a month or so after the game had launched. I kicked it off with my level one Avenger assault rifle and Predator pistol (what we later referred to as “daffodil shooters”). I earned some credits playing some Bronze matches and went to the shop to get some sweet new swag. I was lucky enough to pull a Carnifex pistol in my first Spectre Pack.

Awesome.

Within a couple games, I was popping the heads of Cerberus troopers as if they had M-80’s shoved down their throats. I then joined up with a couple friends so we could compare gear, earn credits, buy gear, kill Geth, and rejoice. One of my buddies had this cool looking weapon called a “Black Widow X”. At the time, I was not aware that the “X” referred to a level ten weapon, and that the Black Widow sniper rifle was an ultra-rare.

The Grinch by ToonfedI quickly became aware of these facts when during the next game, he more than quadrupled the scores of anyone else on the team, laughing manically the whole time like the Grinch with a Gatling gun mowing down the inhabitants of Whoville. Apparently, he had a friend that worked at a local GameStop who supplied him with oodles of pre-paid Microsoft point cards (MSP) which he used to buy himself into weaponized superiority among his peers. Because, you see, in Mass Effect 3, you can either earn the credits through actually playing the game, or just buy them with real money.

To be honest, it was pretty damn lame.

I’m not really a fan of games where people can just buy their way to the top – known as “free-to-play” or “freemium” games. I’m already reminded enough in my day-to-day REAL LIFE that money talks. When I play video games, I like the idea that everyone is on the same playing field and that you’ve actually earned what you have. When I conquer Emerald Weapon in FFVII, it’s not because I just popped in the game disk and paid $5. I spent the time to level my characters, materia, and limit breaks so I could accomplish that feat.

Final Fantasy 7 Emerald Weapon DLCIt’s one of the reasons video games are so attractive as a recreational activity, because it’s a controlled environment where everyone plays by the same rules. Add in the free-to-play model, and all of a sudden this goes out the window.

But enough of my personal soapbox, it’s clear that free-to-play is a new financial model for game developers small and large. This isn’t people planting cartoon carrots on Facebook anymore. This is World of Tanks, Planetside 2, and League of Legends.

This is millions and millions of dollars at stake.

And though PC and mobile developers have quickly caught on, consoles are lagging behind in this department. It won’t be long though. Even though you still had to pay $60 for the game, EA implemented it with Mass Effect 3 as I described above. And I’ll be damned if there weren’t thousands, or tens of thousands of people out there who actually spent money like my friend did to shortcut their way to better gear.

Now enter Microsoft.

Happy Wars ScreenshotMicrosoft decided that they would venture into the freemium market on the XBOX 360, likely as a litmus test on how that market would be received on their console (or…ahem…future consoles). Happy Wars launched in October 2012 as the first entirely free-to-play game on XBOX 360, where you can pay MSP to shortcut your way to more powerful gear or unique character customization options. Within two months, the game had more than 1.2 million users.

It’s impossible to know how many of those users actually spent money, but Happy Wars must’ve done well enough that Microsoft believes it’ll work again. Microsoft recently announced World Series of Poker: Full House Pro, the second freemium game available on XBOX 360 where people can spend money (yeah…REAL money) to buy in-game avatar accessories, unlock real-life casinos, and – yes – unique chip handling tricks.

World Series of Poker Full House ProYou have got to be kidding me.

It makes me wonder if Microsoft is slowly weaning console players into the freemium future, where the next-gen console will have a game marketplace plum-tuck full of freemium wares. With the recent trends in PC and mobile gaming, and now Microsoft developing directly for their own console, it’s not only possible, it’s probable.

What boggles my mind is that people are willing to drop large amounts of money into these games, even though it doesn’t mean that their playing experience will be significantly changed. Would you really pay ten bucks so that your XBOX avatar can wear Al Capone’s fedora? Ten bucks not enough? How about a couple thousand?

That’s right.

Take for example Fantasica, a freemium digital card game available on iOS devices. It’s not the most popular game, but it does okay for itself. Each week, the game features a unique event where players can compete to win limited edition cards. The curious soul that I am, I contacted some of the top players to see how much money they had spent. Multiple players said that they had spent around a thousand dollars on a single event, and most others have spent several hundred dollars on each event.

So what happens when Call of Duty and Halo begin to exploit these people with seemingly endless disposable income?

Halo Pay to Play

Don’t think it will happen?

Remember that Microsoft now owns the Halo franchise. With their new-found interest in freemium games on the XBOX, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see unique Spartan armor, weapon mods/skins, or other customizations appear in future games that call for the player to open up their pocketbook.

Because with free-to-play content, it’s no longer a matter of IF people will buy, it’s just a matter of how much.

What do you think about the future of free-to-play and freemium games on the XBOX? Will it become the new norm to charge players for premium content?

Please leave a comment, or let me know on Twitter what you think.

So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer?

I read this article on the development blog for Zeboyd Games, the makers of Breath of Death VII and Cthulu Saves the World. I thought it was an interesting read, and since it is nearly three months old I decided to repost it here. Please visit the original post on Zeboyd’s website for more good stuff!

by Robert via Zeboyd Games

So You Want to Be an Indie Game Developer?

First off, enjoying the playing videogames is not the same as making them. Seems pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people assume that just because they like to play videogames, they’d also enjoy making them. If anything, deciding to make videogames will actually cut into your time playing them, at least until you’ve made it big and have enough money to turn game development into your full-time career.

Making games is not about the sudden burst of inspiration and brilliant ideas. Oh, don’t get me wrong – you’ll get those too (and if you don’t, game development might not be for you), but they account for a relatively small percentage of your game development time. The vast majority of your time will be spent slowly constructing the game, whether that’s by writing line after line of code, drawing sprite after sprite, composing song after song, or any of the other tasks that needs to be performed to have an actual game. While having a completed game is rewarding and fun, the process itself also involves a lot of tedium and frustration along the way.

Start small and work your way up. When you’re just starting off, you’re not good enough to make your dream game. For that matter, you might not be good enough to make a game that someone will be willing to buy. Doesn’t matter. The time you spend now making Text Adventure Game Extreme! or The New Adventures of Bootleg Pac-Man is time that you’ll be learning your craft so that you can make your dream games eventually. It is also crucial to see a project through to completion – even with a simpler game, the experience you gain from finishing a project teaches invaluable lessons on how to proceed with more ambitious games.

You’re probably not going to make much if any money at first. Don’t let it discourage you. When you see a successful indie developer, chances are they made several games before they had their big hit. The successful indie developers are the ones who don’t stop when they hit a setback.

Learn from your mistakes. When you release a game and it doesn’t do as well as you expected, figure out why. Maybe the gameplay was good but the amateurish graphics scared people off. Maybe it was too similar to another game. Maybe you released it on the wrong platform. Maybe the price was wrong. Figure out what you did wrong and how you can improve in that area so that you don’t make the same mistake next time.

Before you make a game, plan out the game’s scope. Individual features will often change as you come up with new ideas or discover that old ideas don’t work out as well as you thought, but if you have an idea of the general scope of your game, you can avoid it turning into a project that’s beyond your time and abilities. Perhaps the number one killer of indie game projects is feature creep.

Don’t do it alone. A few people are multi-talented geniuses and can make a fantastic game all by themselves. Most of us are not. Once you have some small confidence in your talents, find someone or a group that can compliment your strengths and make up for your weaknesses. Share ideas, insight, and progress – this will help keep everyone motivated.  Motivation and momentum are absolutely crucial.

Make games that people will want to buy. It’s not enough to just make good games. Your games need to be different enough from what else is out there that people will want to buy your games instead of the alternative. Remember, you’re not just competing against other indie games, you’re competing against big blockbuster games, older classics, and in short, everything out there. You need a unique hook, in gameplay, concept, execution, or whatever – if you don’t, then why go for your game over someone else’s?

Seek feedback especially before but also after release. Don’t become defensive when someone offers criticism. Analyze the complaint and see if it’s valid. If several people have the same complaint, it’s probably valid.

Spread the word. You can have the best and most original game in the world but if no one knows about it, it won’t sell. Create a list with media contacts to send news and free copies of your game to. Become an active user on various forums or where people who might like your game gather. Create a website, a twitter, a facebook, and other forms of social media for your company.

Be nice. If you’re nice, people will help you to succeed. If you’re nice and your games are good, people will buy your games. If you’re not nice, they’ll just pirate them.

Start now. You’re never too young or too old to begin game development. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll gain the skills necessary for you to eventually make the best game ever!