Posted by Sarah Northway | Posted in Game Design, Travel | Posted on 17-03-2011
Tags: Bite Me, Fantastic Contraption, Rebuild, Steambirds
When I started Rebuild, I wanted something I could write, sell, and be done with. I wasn’t planning another Fantastic Contraption. I didn’t want to deal with servers and payment methods and message boards. I was looking for a sponsor, following the model my friend Andy Moore used to great success selling his game Steambirds to the highest bidder.
I’d been rolling around the game idea for about a year. I’d originally conceived it as a multiplayer Facebook game where you could see your friends on the same map and trade resources with them. I was working for Three Rings who were doing some neat Facebook games and I had hope that the Facebook audience were maturing as gamers and would soon demand more sophisticated games. Or at least real games which involve some sort of decision making and aren’t just glorified slot machines.
As you may have guessed, I became soured to Facebook games’ simplistic play and shady propagation methods. Also, although I think multiplayer is where the future (and money) is headed, it poses extra problems like server communication, synchronization and security. Too many hurdles for my first independent game! So I thrashed out a single player version over two days which was basically the entire game right there, finished. All it needed was a little polish. Or maybe six months of polish.
I think it took me about 3 months full time to finish it, but spread across six months in which we travelled through Europe and Central America. Some places I got almost no work done (In Czech Republic we were too busy with friends, pilsner and pork knuckles). Our month in Malta was super productive since it was hot as frack and there was nothing to do. We always planned ahead to make sure we’d have a net connection in every country, and although some were more reliable than others we had few major problems. We met up with other indie developers, and I always had enthusiastic playtesting and idiot checks from my husband Colin, who was working on his own game at the time.
I did the design, programming and art for Rebuild; everything but the music which I licensed through Shockwave Sound. I hummed and hawed about hiring an artist to help out but I was nervous of letting a stranger in to my project and had no idea how well the game was going to do. Instead I learned a lot about vectors and enjoyed being able to switch to something creative when I needed it. I learned I can still produce art and story text after two glasses of wine, even though it only takes two sips to totally wreck my programming skills. So the art took me longer than it should have, but Rebuild was ready for final testing by November.
I’d posted earlier versions to Facebook and sent them to friends and relatives, but got little feedback except from a few diehard fans (including Colin). I sat down with a couple people and watched them play, but I find the process nerve-wracking and I always end up explaining things rather than quietly observing, because I’m afraid that they’ll get confused and frustrated.
FlashGameLicense has a system called First Impressions where you can get strangers to play your game and give feedback for $1 a pop. Unbiased strangers playing my game! I ordered 10 and sat refreshing the page until my first review came in:
Played for: 7 minutes
Ease of Use: 3/10 – the game really make little sense
Fun: 1/10 – waste of time
Graphics: 5/10 – nothing to shout about
Sound: 5/10 – the sound is cool
Polish: 3/10 – the game needs some work
Parting Thoughts: The games should be more interactive of a real game. People don’t want to read so much for a game they just want to play and get on with the fun.
A fun rating of one?? People don’t want to read so much?? There was no way I was going to make minimum wage (my humble goal) with this game. I knew it was a good game, Colin knew it was a good game, but if your average Flash player downvotes anything with words in it, no sponsor was going to touch it. The second review gave it an even lower score, so I slunk to bed dejected.
The next afternoon I grit my teeth and checked the reviews again, and was delighted to find some of the new reviews praised the game, giving it 9s and 10s and speaking in full punctuated sentences. They managed to drag the overall rating up to a 7/10 with Ease of Use being the worst category. Two reviewers got lost and had no idea how to play, so I spent another day tweaking the tutorial before I made the game visible to other FGL users then started bidding in early December.
Next time I’ll talk about FlashGameLicense and the bidding process.