Looking back on 2013 and plans for 2014

So I’m officially 1 year in as a wanna-be Indie Developer (since I have yet to release my game). It’s a tough ride governed by many decisions and mistakes. I’d like to take the time and share my experience after this first year. Hopefully it will be useful for people starting out or a good read for those without content to consume after the New Year’s party.

Going Indie

Doesn’t seem like a hard thing. To be honest, it looks allot like pledging to participate in a ludumdare event. No formalities, no signatures, no contracts and NDA’s. For me it’s more like a state of mind which translates to “Now I can be in full control of my projects and do what I want”. Another way to put it would be like having a cigarette smoker (like myself) saying “Today, I will quit smoking”. It’s easy to say, easy to get into that mental state but it’s hard to keep at it. Most people advice to not take the plunge until you have enough money to sustain yourself for at least 1 year. I think that’s a good, sane idea. I did not listen to it but that’s because I took another approach.

Moving back to my hometown

Sometime in December 2012 I moved back to my hometown after quitting my job at @Gameloft. My mother’s illness really progressed and I was expecting the worse. I proceeded to finish my last year of University/College by commuting to Bucharest almost daily. Thankfully things have gotten better for her since then but she’s not out of the woods. After I finished college I was faced with a huge problem: My funds we’re bellow 0, commuting daily burning all my savings and my folks we’re in the same boat. I couldn’t afford to move back to Bucharest and search for a job (renting an apartment there is expensive for Romanian Standards and you have to pay at least two months in advance) so I decided to make the best of it.

The bright side of things

The idea was to try out the indie life, make a game, release it and see if I can in any way afford to live off of it. My goal was simple: Make enough money from my first release in order to afford to buy a pack of cigars daily for one month, and two beers each weekend. The total sum amounts to: 105 euros. If I could reach this goal then there might by a chance of being able to turn this into a viable business.

By moving back home I don’t have to worry about paying rent each month, nor having to buy food or pay for transportation, which allowed me to focus on one project full time with no other distractions. Living in Romania also provides a huge advantage as, compared to other countries, the cost of living is relatively small and I can get away with earnings that otherwise would be considered less than sufficient in other places.

The project – Mutant Gangland –

Last July I took part in the Mini-LD hosted by @sorceress, #7DRTS challenge. I wanted to go head to heads with a friend of mine and ex co-worker @Radu Chivu. In the end we both took part but only for two days. I ended up with a messy and sluggy tbs which I dubbed Mini Wars. I was heavily disappointed in my creation and set up to remake it (more details on that here). First rule of order was to fix the broken pathfinding implementation I used and design a proper AI.

With a bit of luck I manage to get @Thomas Nopper’s attention and enlist him to help me out with the graphical assets of the game. Over the course of 6 months Thomas waved (and keeps on waving) his magic wand at the screen and kept on producing new graphics and sprites for the game, while I kept tuning, balancing and polishing the game. Looking back on it, things have changed quite a bit:

mutant_gangland_evolution

Initially I wanted MGL to be released as a October’s Challenge entry. Looking back, I’m extremely happy I decided to move forward with the development and keep hammering at it. I doubt the October version would have brought in any revenue.

MOAI SDK

I am a self taught coder with huge load of bad habits caught during my early days playing Dark Basic. I started out learning to make games on TheGameCreator‘s forum. Back in 2006 TGC was full of people starting out as developers, aiming high, doing the impossible. I was astonished by what lone developers could create. The projects I’m mostly fond of from those days are Soul Hunter by Jarl Larsson and Organized Crime by Rami Ismail, projects which inspired me to tackle game dev, first with DarkBasic and then DarkGDK (C++). I long ago moved to other tools and frameworks like LOVE and recently MOAI.

MOAI on it’s own is a nifty little tool that fits my needs perfectly. It’s not extremely low-level and thanks to it’s lua framework  I can focus on the design aspect rather then barebone implementations but I can always get my hands dirty by diving in the sourcode and adapt it. It’s extremely powerful and versatile. The only downside I see is that it’s mostly in the hands of the community, with little-to-no support from Zipline recently. Still, the community is putting in a great effort in maintaining the project and perfecting it.

DevSofa

A few months ago Amos began a discussion on twitter about finding/using a tool that allows us to acquire feedback on our projects early on while avoiding having it in the public’s eye. Thus, with the help of Dimiter Pietrov, he created a website that aims to achieve this goal. It’s a wonderful project that I abused heavily while MGL was in development, and I will proceed to do so again once we release a BETA version. If you are interested in learning more about devsofa then I recommend checking out the presentation on the front page.

2013 -> 2014

All in all, 2013 was a year full of unexpected events. Financially it ruined me but it helped me develop my skills further, brought new people into my life and convinced me to take the plunge towards the indie side of the game development industry. Looking forward there are allot of things that I plan to achieve in 2014:

  • Release Mutant Gangland and achieve my goal of 105 euros
  • Learn how to properly market a game
  • Establish a presence in the indie development scene and make a name for myself
  • Hone my skills and work towards releasing better and more engaging games
  • Finish my own framework on top of MOAI
  • Attend at least on game development conference (at least GDC Europe)
  • Make a personal achievement list that puts Xelu‘s version to shame

That’s it for now I guess. Next week I’ll return with updates on Mutant Gangland and a release date for a beta. We’ve finished with the User Interface redesign and we can move towards balancing the game and designing more, interesting maps. To my twitter and blog followers: I wish you all to achieve your dreams and goals and to have a great great GREAT year ahead. Thank you for sticking with me and supporting my projects.

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