Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Utah Indie Night - Winter 2009 - and Indie Lessons
We had another Utah Indie Game Developer meet last week. Due to my (finally solved!) Internet problems, I wasn't able to comment on it the next day as I usually do.
Fortunately, some others did, so I'll link to them.
This time, the meeting was at ITT Tech. The meetings always have a very different flavor depending upon whether they are at ITT or Wahoo (NinjaBee) studios, just because of the space. The ITT meetings tend to lend themselves better for formal presentations (as they are usually in classrooms). This time we were in sort of the central hall / meeting room, which was less crowded, a little noiser, but more useful for giving informal game presentations. ITT is closer to my house, which is an added benefit for me. :) But because they are so busy right now (recessions tend to cause much higher school enrollment), it's been tougher to schedule rooms there in the evenings. But they are always outstanding hosts (as are the Wahoo / NinjaBee crew), and very supportive of the indie game development scene here in Utah.
The night opened up with Josh Jones presenting a post-mortem of his "mini-monthly" experiment. All last year, he worked on creating a new game every month, using Flash. This stemmed from a New Years' resolution to become a better game developer. The mini-monthly experiment honed his design skills, his production skills, and undoubtedly his Flash skills. He's posted his post-mortem notes (and his games) on his website:
The Mini-Monthly Experiment Post-Mortem
I took a bunch of notes, but the stuff on his website is better.
He had a lot of sub-lessons learned for each of his lessons, and some were repeated frequently. If I were to distill some of his best points down from all of his lessons of indie development into the key elements (and add my own spin on things), they'd be:
#1 - Time Management
Working within the constraints of month-long, part-time projects (often while in crunch mode at the Day Job - he worked at the same game company I did last year) really tests your ability to put the right amount of time into each aspect of the game - design, development, and testing / polishing. And leaving time for other activities - like actually playing games. Learning how to juggle these to produce a finished game of sufficient quality by the deadline is challenging. He didn't always succeed, but he learned a lot.
#2 - Design and Scoping
He noted several times that he fell victim to "over-design" - spending too much time in design and not having enough time for production (a problem with one project which prevented it from being completed). In addition, designing for the proper scope, deadline, and budget was challenging. It's easy to fall victim to "feature creep," and adding new ideas until you run out of time.
#3 - Motivation
Motivation is hard, especially for an indie when you really don't have much hope of finding a pot of gold at the end of your game production rainbow. While working on your own game and really cool ideas is fun and all (in principle), you will have to find your own ways of motivating yourself through the less-fun parts (which is pretty much everything after the initial surge of activity).
He also talked about why the mini-monthly projects were so useful as an indie project. More than anything else, they provided a hard deadline and forced him to treat them as real projects rather than interminable time-sinks for puttering and tinkering with.
After that, people got to show off the games. And talk about the problems facing mainstream studios in the local area (as many of the indies were former employees of a particular company that is being sued by the Department of Labor...) We also got the scuttlebutt from an employee of Disney about the two Disney studios having layoffs (which were both relatively small, and rather generous) and being merged together.
The games themselves - due to my tardiness, I'll just point you to Greg Squire's outstanding write-up:
Greg Squire's Write-Up On Utah Indie Night - Winter 2009
Of particular note to me was the OUTSTANDING look of the now-beta indie MMORPG Link Realms. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what indie can be:
Link Realms went beta on January 1, and shortly thereafter became FLOODED with beta testers. Great for stress-testing, not so great for general beta bugs they are trying to find and fix right now, so they've had to put new beta test applicants on a waiting list. This one has the potential to be HUGE. Maybe not World of Warcraft huge, but still huge by most other measures.
A 2D side-scrolling MMORPG was also being shown, entitled Smote. It's still in early development, but functional and playable.
Curtis Mirci showed off his game, Darkened Dreams 2 (which has been mentioned here in the past). Most of the effort so far has gone into the tools, which are REALLY freakin' sweet and will be shipping (by my understanding) with the game. These are fairly comprehensive, and even include scripting (via LUA). These were a little further along than when he showed them in these videos on his website:
Darkened Dreams 2 Video Blogs
The original version of the game (running under Java - not nearly as exciting) can be found here. The new one is running under XNA and looks a lot more interesting. It's still pretty rough and early, but with the tools up and running, things should hopefully progress quickly.
A student project 2D shooter entitled "Galactic Winds" looked like a lot of fun. Inspired by 80's-era side-scrolling space shooters, it included the ability to upgrade (and downgrade) your ship in mid-mission. Downgrading wouldn't get you back as many points as you spent to upgrade, but I could see that technique being used to customize your ship as you prepare to fight different bosses.
Zombie Town - or, as author Darius Ouderkirk described it, "Zombie Tower Defense," was running using TGB as the core engine. It was running into some technical / framerate issues, though that could probably be explained by it having something like a quadrillion zombies on-screen at one time with collision turned on all of them. This one has a lot of potential. I mean, tower defense against hordes of zombies! How perfect is that?
Tank Rage Arena was a game using a custom 3D engine built by creator Nick Terry using DirectX. It's principally a multiplayer tank-combat game. In.... maze-like arenas. I guess rage is involved somewhere. But it looks very nice, and like a lot of fun. He'd made some rapid changes over the last few weeks to add AI tanks so he could demo the game for indie night. The AI tanks weren't too smart, but they did help show what the game was about.
I had some awesome discussions with some very cool people on the sidelines - some of it even indie-game related - and I thank them for putting up with the loudmouth Coyote in their conversations. They provided me with plenty of scuttlebutt and food for thought. And probably blog topics.
I left the night, as usual, feeling pretty inspired and a little humbled. There are some DANG talented indie game developers here in Utah.
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Thanks for the writeup. Wish I could've made it, but then you and everybody else would be hacking up a lung by now. Consider it a favor you can pay me back for later.Post a Comment
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