Tales from the Dev Side: Hooray for Us by Steve Smith
July 27, 2012 6 Comments
Forgive me guys.
♫ Yo they’re Smith Bros.
Collecting Disorder’s their game.
Landed on my leaderboard
with minimal pain.
They were lended a hand,
when they got to XBLIG land.
Even if punishers are for fuckers,
I respect those limey Brothers!
Oh God, I’m so sorry. Here, read Mr. Steve Smith’s Tales from the Dead Side. I’m going to go flog myself.
Hooray for Us!
by Steve Smith
Let’s introduce the Super Smith Bros with a short story. When I was small kid, my brother, a few years younger, rode his tricycle into the back of my bike (with stabilizers) and knocked me into a hole in our driveway splitting my head open. I went to hospital and missed Fraggle Rock. I was not pleased. Nine months later it was Graham’s birthday so I smacked a toy Transformer across his head and he went to hospital. Ha! Why the hell am I telling you this? Simple, our design philosophy is what I like to call hostile decision-making. We banter or argue (often argue) until that element of the design is nailed down. Ah, brotherly love. It may not be everybody’s preferred approach to game design, but it seems to work for us.
Graham initially lied that he’d done over 95% of the work for Obsessive Collecting Disorder including the art & coding but I bargained him down to 70% as I contributed level design and in-game writing. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I will be doing far more of the art in our next game or I’ll be receiving a hard slap to the face, so I’ll be getting on that rather soon. After several months of hostile decision-making and messing around with a hamster, a bat and some chicken’s.. don’t ask.. the design for our first game just started falling together nicely.
I was done sketching a hundred or so level designs and writing the in-game content while Graham was still doing the ‘real’ work, so I started to focus on marketing. The Xbox Indie Marketplace has a reasonably small market but it can be a decent stepping stone to other platforms so making yourself and your game visible is exceptionally important. Our first step was to create a Facebook page, throw a few screen shots up and force by violent means if necessary every single one of our friends to like that damn page.
Next step was a teaser trailer and at the time I had no way of getting the footage from Graham so he had to edit in moviemaker, which is like trying to slice cheese with a spoon.
Remember that the things needed to make games cost money not the power of dreams so one App Hub Licence, Fraps or something similar for recording gameplay and possible music/sound effects copyright is a quick £100/ $150 or more. Most developers will probably already have the required software but if you don’t then Photoshop and video editing software such as Premier Pro are further costs, especially the full versions. Music and sound effects are more of an issue and neither of us has any ability in sound design hence a grown man sat at home recording noises for a chicken jumping and dying in our last demo, not good. We used copyright free sites for all of our audible in-game content that only needed attributing, great for a first time dev who can only impersonate chickens badly.
Anyway I think he did an amazingly spectacularly wonderful job (sarcasm alert – just in case) and from there it was matter of getting the trailer viewed by as many human being types as possible. We used Reddit, Tig Source, Digg, Tumblr and Facebook and that teaser trailer now has over 1000 hits, spreading across social media like the bubonic plague is clearly a necessity. At this point I was essentially playtesting levels and bitching I mean feeding back to Graham until enough levels were built for me to start recording footage in Fraps. So after a couple of days of recording it was time for me to get slicing and dicing or editing as some refer to it. Once the full trailer was sorted we obviously repeated the social media exposure with one difference – Twitter.
I’m 33 and had never really used Twitter properly before; for instance I thought this ~<3 meant dangling balls but apparently it’s a heart balloon. Who knew? In the space of three weeks over 200 people followed me – both truly amazing and a little creepy. Developers such as Drop Dead Interactive, Chaosoft Games and CSR Studios immediately started talking to us, along with press like Xbox Ramble, Indie Mine, MasterBlud and of course the Indie Gamer Chick. I was astounded by how quickly the indie community not only responded to us but supported our game and were actually interested in what we we’re doing. It says a lot about the community that we haven’t been around long and we already feel a part of it. Just don’t hug me. I hate that shit.
Graham was still bloodying his face on a brick wall with the final aspects of the game, so I sliced and diced together another trailer of our previous XNA development progress. This was marketing, but also a way of showing the community our improvement in XNA over the prior 6 months and our weird sense of humor. Playtest and especially peer review were helped immensely by Twitter with plenty of developers such as Sparsevector, Milkstone Studios, Chaosoft Games and Drop Dead Interactive to name but a few getting us through the process quickly. As expected not everything was perfect with our first release; a few technical issues arose and although we’re quite popular in the UK, Canada and Germany not so much yet in America land.
It’s been a great first development experience and in our first two reviews, Indie Gamer Chick didn’t rip out stickman’s little stick throat and Indie Ramble rather liked it, all subsequent reviews have also been very favorable. To the new developers out there, make sure you’ve got a thick skin because you’ll need it at times. And don’t quit any jobs thinking your first game will be the next best seller. Invariably it won’t and you’ll have made a monumentally dumb ass move. Get yourself and your game out to as many social media outlets as possible, talk to other developers and the press and remember that designing games is a joy. Especially when chickens are involved.