Interview with IndieLand (translation)

Recently I was asked to do a small interview with Russian indie game portal, IndieLand. For those of you who cannot read and understand Russian (myself included), I will post the English transcript below.

1) Tell about yourself (Where are you from, how old are you, etc)

“Hi there! I am Zachary Bell; @ZackBellGames on Twitter. I am a 23-year-old independent programmer and designer from the Seattle area. I am currently one-fourth of newly formed independent game studio, Spaceboy Games (Previously I had released titles under ZackBellGames, independently).”

spaceboylogo

2) How did you get into gamedev?

“Prior to game development, playing/teaching music was the only thing that consumed
my time. I was a drummer (minor studio player, gig…er, coach, and private instructor) and that is what I thought that I was going to do with my life. I was in a long-term relationship at the time, so when high school came to a close I decided to try to find an alternate career path that would prevent me from having to relocate frequently.

Eventually, that thought landed me in a position that I like to call: ‘Really Poor Tech School That Shall Not Be Named’. With music as a focus, grades seemed unimportant near the end of my high school career (oops). I took my only option and signed up for a local tech school. After meeting with an adviser, I ended up in their shiny, new game programming degree program.

The program was a mess. We were required to ‘become a C++ master’ in a matter of sixteen weeks. For those of you who know anything about programming, this feat is nearly impossible. However, the very first design class challenged us to implement a small game using a product called Game Maker 7. I embraced Game Maker and quickly left that school.

Luckily, my grades at ‘Really Poor Tech School That Shall Not Be Named’ were near perfect. With that, I moved into the Computer Science and Systems program at the University of Washington (UW). This is where I learned the bulk of my traditional programming knowledge.

I later attended DigiPen Institute of Technology (a private school focused on game development) and this is where I met Alejandro Hitti, who would end up becoming our producer/marketing guy, and one-fourth of our company, Spaceboy Games.

Alejandro continued on at DigiPen to learn more about the business and marketing aspects of game development, while I dropped out to start producing commercial games.

tl;dr

-I wanted a job that granted me the freedom to live wherever I wanted
-‘Bad, ugly, mean tech school of death’ introduced me to YoYo Games products
-Proper schooling taught me proper programming practices
-I trade games for money”

3) Tell about your first game.

“That is a tricky question to answer. My first game? My first finished game?
My first published game? The list goes on. To keep things interesting, I’ll discuss my first…publicly well-received, but eventual disaster of a game. Frog Sord.

I should probably stop talking about this game, but I still get asked about it often. In 2012, I started working on what was supposed to be my first commercial product. It was a simple, action-platformer about (you guessed it) a frog and a sword (sord?). During the prototyping phase, we were a team of two. The two of used Game Maker to put a small game together. It was short, fun, and easy to pick up and play. Sadly, it was ugly and lacked content. Around this time I had just met Alejandro and convinced my partner that he would be very beneficial to our team. He knew a thing or two about programming, design, and business. He also had potential access to resources that would allow us to hire an artist.

Area2Preview2

The art looked great, our productivity spiked, and our workspace/resources improved drastically! However, our team dynamics quickly took a turn for the worst. As our team grew, several pairs of people did NOT get along well at all. Huge personality differences and hugely opinionated people. Too many for a team so small, and too many for a project that began so simply.

In the end, I was feeling incredibly pressured to play both sides of several confrontations. I tried for months to keep all parties happy. At one point or another, I was probably a ‘bad friend’ to each of these people, but the project launching was my number one and I felt that I could mend each issue separately. This development experience is what shaped who I am as a friend, business partner, and entrepreneur.

After Frog Sord inevitably crumbled, I left everyone alone for awhile. I was emotionally drained, back at the drawing board, and trying to find some way to move on with game development. Not too long after, Alejandro and I continued to work together (we still do to this day), but I have yet to mend things with my original partner.”

4) Tell about INK (idea, creation, and publishing). Was it successful?

“Onto something more positive! Sorta. INK is my baby, but INK was also my last resort. Making games independently is hard work and I had exhausted all of my options as well as my bank account. The goal of INK was to return to my roots and just release a commercially viable product in the least amount of time.

This somewhat frantic and panicked state came about during Ludem Dare 32. For those that don’t know, Ludem Dare is a game jam where small teams create games, using a theme, within a very short time span. The theme for Ludem Dare 32 was ‘An Unconventional Weapon’. I had always wanted to make a 2D variation of the mechanics showcased in Super Mario Sunshine and this was a good opportunity. The player would wash paint off of different surfaces while simultaneously overcoming complex platforming situations.

The painting mechanics ended up feeling more fun than the removal of paint, so I stuck with that. I coupled this idea with an early mechanic from a game called, The Unfinished Swan. Combined, you have a game that plays similarily to Super Meat Boy, but all of the terrain is invisble until it is painted over. You paint the world by touching surfaces or by using your double jump to release paint from the player character.

hard

I created the initial INK release in three weeks time. I didn’t need art assets and I had some old sfx readily available. After a surprisingly successful run on itch.io, I decided to post the game on Steam’s Greenlight platform. In less than three more weeks, INK was approved for release via Steam.

The total development time for the Steam release was about three months. I partnered up with Alejandro Hitti (business and Steam integration), Fellipe Martins (promotional art), and Vince Rubinetti (music and sfx) to further polish the game. INK has been available for a little over two months now and has sold over 16,000 copies (at an original price point of $4.99). When you take the soundtrack and deluxe edition into account, INK has made roughly $70,000 within a couple of months, which is more than enough to keep me afloat until I release another product.”

5) Why do you choose to use Game Maker (GM) products?

“I get this question pretty much every day, and my answer is typically ‘Why not?’. To me, game development is about results. My job as a developer is to…develop games. I can do that most quickly using GM because GM can handle the projects that I want to make efficiently and because I am very familiar with the GM API. If either of those were untrue, I would use a different tool. Until I choose to make either a large scale 3D game or the devs at YoYo Games decide to make drastic changes to how Game Maker
opperates, I will continue to use it.

In school I learned how to produce game engines from scratch in C/C++. It’s great fun, a challenge, and rewarding, but it is an enormous time sink. I have many, many 2D games lined up for release and I have no way of knowing how much time I have to create them, so why not play it safe/smart?”

6) What is next for you?

logosmall

“Next for me is a game called, Fara Way: Eye of Darkness. It’s a procedurally generated rogue-like…like, inspired by games like Nuclear Throne and The Binding of Isaac, fused with mechanics from card-based action games like the Megaman: Battle Network series and Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. It will be the first official Spaceboy Games title and currently has the full attention of myself and Alejandro, as well as Sandy Gordon (pixel art), Fellipe Martins (concept/promotional art), and Vincent Rubinetti (music/sfx).

WawatoSSS

Spaceboy Games and Fara Way: Eye of Darkness will be present at the 2016 Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco. If you happen to be in central California, in March of 2016, please feel free to visit us at our booth! Alejandro and myself have also submitted a talk on the development and business aspects of INK. If that falls through, we will also be presenting the information at the DigiPen campus in Redmond, Washington.

Elecball2

Thanks for having me here today and showing interest in my work and the future of Spaceboy Games!”

That about covers the bulk of the interview! If you are a games journalist and would like to conduct an interview of your own, feel free to contact me via ZackBellGames@gmail.com or on Twitter. Thanks, everyone!

Z

Interview with IndieLand (translation)

#GMTWeekly: Downwell-Style Motion Trail

Before we start, if you haven’t read last week’s tutorial and/or you aren’t too comfortable with blend modes and surfaces, I suggest that you take a look at that tutorial first.

Requests

I am always accepting requests for these tutorial segments! Feel free to send me ideas if/when you have them! The first email that I received after tweeting about a tutorial series was in regards to a motion trail effect found in the recent Steam release, Downwell. It was the very first request that I had received AND I believe that it flows fairly easy from last week’s blend mode example.
Continue reading “#GMTWeekly: Downwell-Style Motion Trail”

#GMTWeekly: Downwell-Style Motion Trail

#GMTWeekly: Extended Blend Modes Pt. 1

Hello everyone!

I have been wanting to get back into some #gamedev tutorials for quite some time now. For the time being, I’m going to start doing weekly Game Maker: Studio tutorials to get things rolling. I have a fairly long list of requests, but feel free to send your other ideas my way!

Blend Modes

What are blend modes? Blend modes tell GM what formula(s) to use when blending pixels (your source) with pixels that have previously been drawn to the screen (your destination). By default, GM uses a mode called bm_normal. This mode draws everything how you’d typically expect things to be drawn. If you have a red pixel, and you draw blue over the top of it, it becomes a blue pixel (this is somewhat dependent on the alpha channel of each pixel, as well).
Continue reading “#GMTWeekly: Extended Blend Modes Pt. 1”

#GMTWeekly: Extended Blend Modes Pt. 1

FaraWay: Dynamic Way Point Trails

Hi there,

it has been awhile! I won’t bore you with the details, but INK has been doing far better than expected! Thank you to everyone who has shared, supported, and purchased INK. It has been an absolute blessing!

During my INK development cycle, Sandy Gordon and Fellipe Martins have been working hard on the first project to be produced by our new studio, Spaceboy Games.

We will reveal more about the project soon, but for now, you can find information about it using the hashtag, #FaraWay.
Continue reading “FaraWay: Dynamic Way Point Trails”

FaraWay: Dynamic Way Point Trails

INK – Release

Hello everyone!

It has been an entire month since I have made any kind of update here on ZBG. As most of you know, I have been working towards wrapping up the expanded version of my 2D platformer project, INK. I am happy to finally announce that INK will be coming to Steam and itch.io this Wednesday, August 5th, 2015! Note that the Mac and Linux builds are in the works. Wednesday will strictly be a Windows PC release. If anyone has access to machines and would like to assist us in building, exporting, and testing…please let me know!

Prior to being Greenlit for release via Steam, INK was entirely a solo project (aside from one musical track that Benjamin Burnes allowed me to use). Over the last month or so, I have been working with Alejandro Hitti, Fellipe Martins, and Vincent Rubinetti to bring this project to completion.

Ale and I have been close friends for a few years now. He handles all of my PR, marketing, budgeting, and other producer roles. He also helped code our Steam API integration, achievements, etc. Fell is doing concept art and a lot of overall art direction for another upcoming project of ours. He came on board to promotional art for INK as well as our Steam cards, wallpapers, and more. You can see one of his banners above. Lastly, Vince fleshed out the project entirely by composing six original tracks and a few dozen more sound effects. What started as a solo/pet project, really pulled together into something great due to the help of these people!

I’m looking forward to posting a several part post-mortem after we get through our big press release over the next few days. I want to dive into sales numbers, marketing strategies, WHY I made INK, and really anything else that people want to know!

Lastly, Ale was responsible for putting together our release trailer. I hope that you all enjoy the trailer and know that the entire team appreciates your continued support more than anything. INK was somewhat of an experiment and I am extremely pleased with the response that we have received!

-Z

INK – Release

INK: Final Stretch

Hi everyone!

It had hit me that I have been ignoring my blog for the most part, so I thought that I’d fill you all in on my progress.

INK

INK was a project that I spent roughly three weeks on (part time). It was an experiment. I hadn’t completed a commercial project and INK was something that I could ship without the need of anyone else. The biggest thing there was that I didn’t need to *hire* an artist to assist me. I also wanted to test alternative game portals to Steam (itch.io and company). INK is not a game for a particular audience. It wasn’t designed for anyone. It wasn’t even a game for me. It was a test. It was a portfolio piece. I got it out of the way as quickly as I could.

A month or so later, I have Destructoid articles (among others), a handful of *let’s plays*, a few thousand dollars in sales, requests for interviews, and the project was greenlit for release via Steam. I’m still getting a few tweets and emails each week and it has been really good for me as an independent dev. However, the Steam release has been effected by all of this *success*. When I pumped out the initial build, I did just that. I pumped it out. I didn’t stop to reorder levels. I didn’t fine-tune the design. I just did whatever needed to be done and then I moved on. Now I have something to live up to. I want the expansion to be even better.

Perfectionism breeds procrastination. The more that I want it to be great, the more that I hold off on working on it. I don’t churn out level after level because I am more aware of how important each level is. Before I could get through ten levels a day and now I’m taking a day or two off here and there. This week I’m doing my best to just push forward. For example, today I implemented a basic turret type for *world two* and created eight or so levels that feature this new obstacle.

turret2

I reworked the design and the difficulty curve a bit, but I am definitely keeping it HARD. I believe that people liked the challenge. I also believe the challenge is what makes INK more of a game, and not just an aesthetic. Above is the current level 36, I believe. The triangle design of the turrets/bullets match the triangle design of the second boss. As of now, I plan to have four bosses and eighty levels in the new INK build. I plan on being content complete within a week!

From there I have to worry about Steam certification, Steam API integration (Achievements, Cards, Wallpapers, etc), additional sfx/tracks, and the final marketing push. Thank you all again for the continuous love and support. Many, many more cool projects to come!

-Z

INK: Final Stretch

Indie Income Inquiry #3

The Indie Income Inquiry is a small series that I do to give new developers a look into potential earnings as a contract worker and/or independent developer. Some months are great, others aren’t, but I’m hoping to give a clear picture of what is possible for those eager to make ends meet using Game Maker: Studio (and/or similar products).

It has been a few months since I have done one of these, but many have asked about INK sales, so I figured that this was as good a time as any.

Overview

As usual, it has been a busy month. I spent most of April working on a small game called INK. It took me about three weeks to develop (20-30 hours a week). After the release of INK, I got started on my full time project with Sandy Gordon and was asked to do all of the code on a small contract gig.
Continue reading “Indie Income Inquiry #3”

Indie Income Inquiry #3

Effects: Blood Splatter

Hi, all.

First, I’d like to apologize for slowing down these tutorial series. Things have been a little rough since my largest contract project fell through. For the most part, I’ve been scrambling to jump on something else. Sending out prototypes, replying to job offer emails, etc. No big decisions have been made, but I’m still hopeful.

Anyway, I’ve been told time and time again to do a series on all of my little ‘juice’ effects. Dust when you land from high jumps, screen shake, smoke from bullet fire, etc, etc. I’m going to start that today!

However, I’m going to start with one that’s new to me. Mostly because it’s the most interesting to me, currently. That way you’ll get to see my thought process as I piece these things together.

Blood Splatter

Recently I played through Hotline Miami 2, as I am sure that a lot of you did, as well. Each kill is accompanied with a fairly brutal blood splatter. I wanted to see if I could piece together a top-down dynamic blood splatter that achieves a similar effect.

Final Effect

Continue reading “Effects: Blood Splatter”

Effects: Blood Splatter