A NEW Indie Developer motivation for me, projects, minor rant, and more stuff I’m sure.

At first, the begining of this post will sound like a personal problem, not anything related to Indie development. That would be incorrect – it has everything to do with Indie development, and a new motivation I’ve found for doing it.
Over a decade ago (actually, 10 years, 1 month, and 18 days. But who’s counting πŸ˜‰ I got tricked into getting a job. Seriously. I was a college student, and wasn’t looking for serious employment – I was doing work here and there under the table, doin’ stuff like building electrical panels. I worked for CEI for two weeks, completing the job – then they handed me those tax forms you have to fill out. Ooops. I was stuck – I had a job.
I remained there for 10 years. I’ve seen a huge chunk of the United States, traveled to 4 other countries (China bein’ the one I spent the most time in – 4 1/2 months. Learned the language to a degree – enough that watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I was listening and only half reading the subtitles. Somehow I’m managed to keep that much of the language.), have learned more about how food goes from the field to the table as a finished product than you would ever want to know (most of my work was automating flour mills, though I’ve worked with rice mills (for Budweiser – Bud is a rice based beer, if ya didn’t know), glass plants, bakeries, airplane manufacturers, plywood makers, etc. Losts of stuff.), and learned a hell of a lot about well… everything.
My job is systems administrator / mmi developer / programmer / network design and installation / walking technical reference manual.
Well, (and here comes the Indie Motivation part) I almost got laid off. The economy tanked, so new construction of mills tanked and project budgets have dried up. Instead of layoffs (only one person got laid off in the end) we are now working 4 days a week, which reduces my pay a great deal (about $500 / mo. pay cut. OUCH) Worst part is, I’ve been sure I’ve seen this coming – I watched as they didn’t change strategies, they didn’t cut expendatures, etc. This is a last minute thing – next 4 – 6 months if things don’t pick up, they are done for (IMHO).
Now I’m working on games like a mad-man. I’ve finally found something to break the inertia of having a safe day job, and taking all the time I want to develop my game company. Having an extra day a week to dedicate to game programming doesn’t hurt either – this worked out much better than just becoming completely unemployed. 
For me now, it’s not just about the money of course – I could get much better money doing something else (well, if the economy was better I suppose – I USED to get 2 or 3 job offers a month two years ago). It’s not about security – I could do much better hoping into a different industry and applying my skills there. Nope, it’s about destiny. Controlling my own, in particular. I’m tired of watching someone else make mistakes that mess up my life. Instead, I’d much rather make mistakes and mess up my own life, thank you very much – there’s at least a chance I’ll get it right πŸ˜‰
So, I’m now in mercenary mode (a friend of mine’s term for no longer working at a job because you like the job and are dedicated – you now do it only to get as much cash as you can.) As such, I’ve started really gearing up my own work for Midnight Ryder Technologies to prepare for my departure.
Trajectory Zone still isn’t done – it’s been a nightmare in some ways (but it’s turning out to be an AWSOME game!), so I pulled open my dev directory I keep unfinished projects in, and went diving through them to see what was in good enough shape to finsh quickly, and talked to Eric Forhan about handling the graphics side of the issues.
I have a reusable puzzle game engine that I created a while back – create new game content, drop it in place of the old game content, and rewrite just the rules section of it. Piece of cake. And designing puzzle games is easy for me for some reason. The game that was used to create it hasn’t been finished yet – it needed some very specific art content. Changed the project specs, and suddenly had a nearly completed game πŸ™‚
Tossed it at Eric F. for some feedback, and for him to work up some artwork for me, and have been hackin’ like a madman on finishing that one up (created new sound for it.) It’s yet another addition to the ‘Panic!’ series of games – Flip Panic! is it’s title. Look for a release in the upcoming weeks. I’m sure I’ll post a POTD when I release it, just to pimp it a bit πŸ˜‰ BTW: That would be my 5th finished game – Boulder Panic!, Boulder Panic! 2, Boulder Panic! 2 DX, and Tile Panic! came before it, all for direct sale online (and make that my 7th game if you count two freebies I released: Boulder Panic! 2: The Challenge, which was a contest version of the game, and Boulder Panic! 2: Christmas Bonus)
The new problem, though, is that I’ve come to a crossroads development wise – after looking at a few people’s comments, I started really exploring the Mac market as it relates to games. Ya know what – I really like what I see. So much so, that I’m going to be purchasing a PowerBook here in the near future (actually, my wife will. She’s still in college (med student) and will be using it during the day at class. I just get it for compiling, testing, etc.) Trajectory Zone will definitely have a Mac port now, which will probably end up with it being on all three of the major platforms – Mac, PC, and Linux. Cool.
But the problem is – I could litterally crank out a new puzzle game every two to three weeks if I use my puzzle engine, and if Eric does the artwork (I have three more puzzle games planned out already.). Piece o’ cake. But – the engine is written in… VB 6.0 (Laugh if you want – it’s very quick to work with to get a project started and prototyped, then transition to finished. As long as you ain’t worried about speed. I’m not, so, it’s never been an issue until now.) I’ve done some hacking, and have done about 25% of the work to create a Torque based puzzle game engine. It would take a while to finish the Torque based verison, which would mean I’m not making releases nearly as fast as I could.
So do I slow down, try and do the cross platform development thing, or, do I crank out multiple titles in the same amount of time it would take to finish just the modifications to the engine – but only compete in the clogged PC market? Hard choice – since I only think I’ve got 4 – 6 months of ‘gainful employment’ left in my belief.
I’ve seen what David and a couple o’ people think of the Mac market, but, if you’ve read this far – drop a line an tell me what you think of the market for games there. Might help me make up my poor addled brain πŸ™‚ Heck, sales figures for anyone who has experience with the two platforms would be great too!
I almost ditched one of my projects – Jumpman: 2049. There’s already a free Jumpman Lives! floating around (which isn’t bad, but, is OLD), Jumpman Zero PC is getting released (also free, and is… an interesting take on Jumpman) and someone else contacted me, wanting to know how to get ahold of Randy so that they could create a Jumpman game (which kinda torqued me a bit – here I am, trying to develop a brand new modernized version of Jumpman, and someone is asking me to put them in touch with someone so that they could compete with me. WTF? Ever heard of Google? πŸ˜‰ Seems like a tight spot for yet another take on the game. However, after talkin’ with Matty (of Jumpman Lounge) I finally decided to continue on with the project. What the heck – I believe what I’m bringin’ to the table (commercially) is going to be very different, and very interesting. I guess I’ll just have to take my chances with it. However, if I do release it for the Mac market, there’s absolutely nothing there to complete with it. (That, my friends, is the sound of an epiffany. Or however that word is spelled. πŸ˜‰
I’ve now got a list of games to do that’s a mile long. Only one is a non-Torque game for sure now, most of the rest will probably all be Torque based. I’m putting a lot of eggs in one basket, but, so far Torque really seems to be the best choice. Now I just need 10 clones of myself to complete that list of games, so I can focus on getting just ONE game done πŸ™‚ Right now the games that have my immediate attention (in some sort of order): Flip Panic!, Trajectory Zone, Coin Panic!, Crystal Panic!, Maze Panic!, Jumpman: 2049, and two un-named games. Sheesh. Only programming on two, though – I passed the art requirement for the two CP!’s in the list to Eric F., so he can take a look at the tiles needed for the games. Oh, and Eric keeps trying to talk me into doing Boulder Panic! 3 using Torque. So add that to the list.
Finally, time for a rant. ‘Cause, well, it wouldn’t be a proper .plan file of mine without somesort of a rant. Until now, I have yet to see a member of the GG community who didn’t do something worthwhile, either through conversation or contributing to source code, content, etc. I may have finally seen one. I’m one of those people who think that everyone should have a say (unless they are just trollin’) I was SOOOOO tempted to just make a post with four words in it: “Shut the $#@& up.” Jez… that’s sayin’ something coming from me. People always say “just ignore him” when it comes to people like that – but ya know what? I’d much rather get that guy on some medication – cause what ever he’s takin’ now, it’s not strong enough. (That, or like someone else proposed, we need to get that guy a woman.) 
My fundamental problem with people like that is a complete lack of understanding of how they work. I usually can spot most people’s motivation, understand thier goals, and understand completely when they have an off day, things like that. But this… I don’t get it. Are they so completely un-aware of themselves and how they treat others that they don’t understand why people keep tryin’ to hit them with a clue-by-four? Or, is this person really just a troll, trying to get attention? Who knows, but, for the first time I find myself searching for an ‘ignore’ button in the forums. Doesn’t exist, of course πŸ™‚
Ok, enough of this .plan file – time to get back to work. As da’ man said – “I have come here to chew bubble gum, or kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” I’ll be setting my goal for an average of 1 game per month for the next 6 months. And no, I don’t mean POS games that no one is interested in playing either – just happens to be that most of them were already designed quite a while ago or were already under development for some time already, so I’m not creating the design from scratch, creating a new concept every month. I don’t think I’ll actually MAKE that development schedule, but, I’m gonna shoot for it and see what happens. Time to kick ass – amazing what happens when you get the proper motivation! πŸ˜‰
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr   (Jan 28, 2003 at 01:51)  
I really need to learn to write .plan files, not novels πŸ˜‰
Gareth Davies   (Jan 28, 2003 at 06:46)
Wow good stuff, I personally find that the most detrimental things to my indie game efforts is having a nice cozy job πŸ˜‰
One of the major perks of being an indie is doing things your own way, and not answering to some other idiot that doesn’t have a clue… But in my case it means I answer to another one (myself) πŸ˜‰ But at least you know where you stand.
Having read all the recent Mac threads, I think it’s an awesome idea to do cross platform – and pretty darn stupid not to do so if you’re using the Torque engine. There aren’t so many Mac users (compared to the ‘PC’), but it’s the choice of a sliver of big pie, or a wedge of a smaller one. And I think the later is what the current indie market is all about.
Plus I kinda have a feeling your type of puzzle game would appeal to the Mac market, so it’s no doubt worth investigating porting your ‘puzzle engine’ to the Mac platform, and being able to release there.
Well good luck whatever path you take. Not saying you need it… but it never hurts πŸ™‚
Justin Mette   (Jan 28, 2003 at 10:37)
Nicolas Quijano   (Jan 28, 2003 at 11:48)
Hehe, Davis, I was also tempted many times these last few days to post the exact same 4 words… πŸ˜‰
And I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who can’t control the writing valves 8p
Look for my own brand of .plan novelistas in the near future…
You’ll enjoy the mac portable and the OS it runs : imho, it’s every geek’s dreams come true, really. πŸ™‚
As for porting, it will depend on how close to the “metal” (ie hw and OS) you code your games. 
But as Justin said, there is reason to do a direct port (and create yourself a Mac puzzle framework at the same time) of your stuff : it might actually entail less hard labor than doing the integration (or should I say desintegration :)) work of making Torque less ressource hungry to run on lower end machines… 
Lots of varying factors there. 
Anyhow, keep on rock…erh, indying in the free world !! 8p
Edit : clarified some stuff.
Edited on Jan 28, 2003 12:32
Eric Forhan   (Jan 28, 2003 at 12:07)
Torque Lite anyone? πŸ™‚
Nice .plan… maybe you should start doing your .plans in ebook format? πŸ˜‰ hehhe Just kidding. 
I agree with Justin: Sometimes our path is made clear and it’s up to us to take advantage of it.
Now, if only I could follow that advice myself. πŸ˜‰
Dave Myers   (Jan 28, 2003 at 12:19)   Resource Rating: 4
At first glance, my inclination would be to crank out the puzzle games fast and furious. Focus on PC and make sure they get into channels where you can sell a good number of units quickly and on a regular basis. That would take advantage of the 4-6 months that you have of gainful employment. Of course, this assumes that the games you are creating are interesting to people – but that goes without saying (oops, too late πŸ˜‰ ). 
Like Justin said above, we’d be very interested in talking with you further. At the very least, I know I personally would love an opportunity to play prototypes and betas of anything you are working on to give feedback if you’re interested.
Edited on Jan 28, 2003 16:20
Simon Windmill   (Jan 28, 2003 at 15:24)
Aha, I didn’t make the connection when we chatted on IRC, it’s you! I hope my Mac comments helped out a bit. I’m definitely jealous of anyone buying a new Mac.
For puzzle games on the Mac, I think it might be wise to port to Carbon, so they will run on pre-OSX machines. I’m not usually one to hold back and support the older systems because it’s a pain in the behind, but I think an awful lot of potential puzzlers are not using OSX yet. On a related note, I think those people are less likely to have a Mac with enough juice to run a Torque-based game, so for puzzle games I really think porting your VB engine would be the better option. Perhaps SDL would be a help, I know it can run on both OS9.x and OSX, and apparently with a bit of effort can run on OS8.x
Phil Carlisle   (Jan 28, 2003 at 18:08)
I’m kind of getting the feeling that Mac builds of our games ARE important, even if its only 2-3%, its 2-3% compared to very little real effort. If you could guarantee 2-3% of extra sales with say, a weeks work in ANY other area of your games, wouldnt you do it?
I’m not entirely sure puzzle games are as viable now as they once were, because It feels like that market HAS to have a saturation point, with so many unemployed game developers floating around, it seems inevitable that the bar has to be raised above that level of development.
In essence, we need to think beyond puzzle game-itus, and try and find a middle ground (not huge, possible for 1-2 guys, but NOT a 2 month puzzle game).
Myself, Ive been experimenting with torque by changing it to adapt to different genre’s of games (i.e. different viewpoints, fixed directions etc), I think Ive found quite a nice niche of game that it will adapt to extremely well.
Anyway Davey Ray, sorry about your work having trouble, but I hope you do take the chance to actually make the leap into development fulltime, it will certainly spur me onto the same kind of thing :))
Justin Mette   (Jan 28, 2003 at 18:22)
Be careful not to under-estimate the work involved in producing a Mac title that can be shipped. It’s not as simple as a re-compile, unfortunately. Some other things to consider (that we are going through right now):
– Mac installer
– Performance (definately not on par with PC and Linux builds … yet)
– Testing (double your PC/Linux efforts)
– Compatibility (OS8, OS9, OSX, and hardware)
– No right mouse button πŸ™‚
– Tech Support after release (gotta have a Mac or two for testing – especially multiplayer)
– Network compatibility across platforms
There is probably more work involved than it’s worth at this point – based on pure statistics. However, as an indie – it seems to all be about incremental sales and there is alot of “hype” potential around releasing a game on all 3 platforms. Not many game companies do that, which gives us the edge.
Davis Ray Sickmon, Jr   (Jan 28, 2003 at 20:39)  
Wow – thanks for all the responses. Definitely some things to think about in there πŸ™‚
At first when I read some of the comments about the amount of sales increase (3% – 20%, depending on the post), I almost thought it wasn’t worth my time at all. Then running the numbers through my head, realized it’s probably worth it, ‘specially as a long term strategy. “Hype Potential” behind releasing for all platforms can’t be underestimated, and just selling 10 more of a game per month isn’t anything to laugh at πŸ™‚
Justin: I’m probably leaving in the networking code for use for multi-player versions of the games later, and partialy because of sheer lazyness πŸ˜‰ Plus, at least one game there (BP!3) is a 3D puzzle game – which I suppose would be enough of a difference from most puzzle games to have a little more visual appeal and stand out from the rest. And I just really don’t want to face takin’ out the 3space work, etc. in the engine – in that case, well, it would probably be better ta’ just do it from scratch.
Didn’t know that Pop Cap and the rest are porting over to Mac these days. Bummer for me πŸ˜‰
Dave: Look for an email from me sometime soon.
SiW: Yep, that was me πŸ™‚ SDL would probably be a great option – makes keepin’ a relatively unified codebase for Windows, Mac, and Linux a bit easier. Granted, there’s no porting a VB app to Mac – it’s a total rewrite from scratch πŸ˜› Ah, now my choice of a fast to develop for language shoots me in the foot πŸ˜‰
Phil: Remind me to bring a gun to the next IGC. “Davey Ray” indeed. πŸ˜‰ Maze Panic! is using my typical puzzle game naming convention, but, it’s pretty different – not a classical puzzle game. The best way to describe it would be a family friendly maze game set in a 3D environment, but, with competitive elements and some modes that will remind you of Nintendo games (ie, find the stars, that sort of thing) and some deathmatch type elements (keeping in mind the “family friendly” concept – don’t look for a rail gun in here, but, look for things to cause people to scream and shout just as much :-). Heck, the only real thing that’s totally hampered development is the lack of two models – a female and a male model for the game.
TZ of course isn’t a puzzle game at all. But when it comes to doin’ some non-puzzle type games that have light requirements for development time, Eric and I spent quite a little bit of time bouncing ideas around – two of the unnamed titles are arcade’ish games using the Torque engine. I went back to the Atari 2600 era, and did some serious diggin’ in the roots of modern video games to see what was fun back then, and what could be brought forward with a minimum of hastle and made visually interesting. I’ve now got a list two miles long of games that fall in the “cool idea” pile right now. For most of ’em, execution isn’t too hard of a problem – I’ve already beaten the engine in to submission to do what I want for most of ’em πŸ™‚ Now it’s a matter of planning them out, figuring out what content development needs done, etc. Tons o’ fun.
But you are right – getting beyond puzzle game ideas is a good thing. Finding a middle ground between simple shareware stuff and UT2k3 should be a goal (hm – think I’ve heard that sentement somewhere… oh yeah, the re-occuring theme at IGC ’02 πŸ˜‰ But for the next month and a half, most of my release stuff will be just puzzle games probably – I’ve got the engine, Eric just emailed me the first concept work on the pieces for the next game, and I’ve got an existing fan base to work from already. Of course, hopefully just after that, TZ will finally be ready to show off πŸ™‚ (I’m doing development on two projects at once right now – current puzzle game, and TZ. Here’s something that will strip some gears when tryin’ to go back and forth – working with C++ and TorqueScript at one point, then moving over and working in VB 6 at other times. Ouch – I type in some really wierd stuff at times)
Justin: Dude – you mentioned at least one thing there that I hadn’t thought of… the installer. Hm – that’s going to require a little research. And for Flip Panic!… well, that requires both mouse buttons! HM! Thanks for pointing both of those problems out, along with the rest.
The Mac is being ordered tomarrow. For now, I’ll stick with just releasin’ the puzzle games for Windows for the next 3 releases or so, then anything 3D and multi-player will be Torque based will be Mac + Windows + Linux releases. If one of the puzzle games looks like it’s doing REALLY well on the PC platform, then I’ll consider the complete re-write nessisary to make the whole thing cross platform, and release version two of the game for all three platforms if possible.
Thanks for the brain fodder, guys – much appreciated. Now I have A Plan – time to implement πŸ™‚
Jeff Peck   (Jan 28, 2003 at 22:32)
Why does it seem to be that the largest problem with game development is the creation of art and sound content?
If only I could program a model πŸ™‚
Good luck Davis Ray πŸ™‚
~ Sang

Talk to me (and everyone else) by commenting!