Ordinary Gamer are proud to present a look inside the mind of an indie developer. This series is a number of interviews we have completed with a number of indie game developers to try and get an idea about what they have to go though to make these games that we all love and play – love to play.
Many of these indie developers are working by themselves, doing everything. Art, coding, music – you name it, they did it. In this day and age we take for granted all the hard work that goes into developing games, we have become spoiled by the big named companies banging out game after game, year after year. This series will follow the small development team, with big idea’s and a ton of hard work.
The first developer we will be talking to is Patricia Curtis of Lucky Red Fish who is currently developing a puzzle game called Monkey Mofo, which is still currently in development so you cannot purchase it just yet, but we will keep you posted on when you can!
Please tell us a little bit about your game.
Monkey Mofo is an action puzzle game that will make you laugh and be surprised as well as the everyday frustrations of trying not to lose a life, which in this case is a monkey. The final game will have over 100 levels split over 23 worlds, where each world adds another gameplay element to the game, building on what you have learned in the previous worlds. The whole idea of Monkey Mofo is you start simple, with one monkey and as you go further and further into the game you get more and more monkeys as well as more and more game features.
How did you come up with the idea behind your game?
Back in 2005 I came across a competition “Samsung Game Development Contest” to make a game in in two months for the J2ME mobiles, I had a Samsung D600 and I thought why not have a go? So came up with the idea of having 10 monkeys that you had to guide to an exit of several maze like levels. It took a while but I got it done by the deadline and it was shortlisted and into the final but I did not win.
Then I carried on with some other non-game related development for a couple of years, and in 2007 I decided I wanted to port it to the PC. After the port was done I felt the game needed something more, so I added some bad guys and made the game more complex with extra power ups and fruit, lots of fruit.
When the game was finished I sent it off to Oberon media who said they would publish it as Monkey Madness as there was a movie named Ten Monkeys and they did not want any issues, however even though I had over 25 games to my name, it was my first digitally published game and I was naïve, as all my other games were back in the day when you would go to a store and purchase a tape or a floppy disk.
In those days a developer would only be allowed to sell the game through one publisher and they would pay for marketing and in return we would surrender most of the revenue from the game sales. Oberon however did no marketing, all they did was put it in their game centres, and to make it worse they charged me for all the bandwidth of every download, irrespective whether they were converting into sales or not. When I pointed out there was a crack for my game and that the link was going to their site for the download which I was paying for, their response was that most people will buy it rather than get it for free. So obviously I did not make that much from Oberon which was disheartening to say the least and therefore I went back to non-game related development work.
I made my first smart phone and tablet game, Tonga, early last year and I thought I would look and see what happened to Monkey Madness. I read one of the customer reviews which said it was the funniest game he had ever played and it made him laugh out loud when he was playing it during a train journey. With that and the popularity of the cracked version of the game, I decided to put Monkeys on smart phones and tablet devices, as it was really suited to the touch screen interface.
However even though the game was popular I felt that the levels were too big for a mobile device as some of the originals were over 16 scrolling screens, so I decided to rewrite the whole game from scratch just using the concept of the many monkeys and the bad guy types.
When I make a game, I sketch in code and graphics, I start with a basic idea make some 3d models and write some code to test things out, as I go along the development cycle I improve on them or scrap them, and the development of Monkey Mofo has been no different. Being as the levels would have to be much smaller I came up with the idea of turning it into a more of a crazy action puzzle game where each of the levels retain the core mechanics and all the fun of the original but each of the bad guy types introduced in their own world.
Monkey Mofo is quite different from most of the other Indie releases created by a single developer, as I have stuck true to my roots and given the game players a real retro gameplay feel while bringing it up to date with 3D rendered graphics and an awesome sound track. I spend over a year, full time making one game but Monkey Mofo has had a lot more than that, the gameplay has been refined over two previous releases, each time improving on the previous, which is someway makes this Ten Monkeys three.
How many people were involved with the making of your game?
As well as myself there are two other people helping to develop Monkey Mofo, there’s my civil partner Thy Mai Tran who is responsible for QA, she spends hours and hours play testing everything I make, looking for the smallest improvements and things she does not like with the end result of knowing that every game that we release to the public is 100% bug free. Then there is Sven Gerlach, he is a very talented musician who has a long history of producing high quality music for games such as Grotesque, Napoleonic Wars, Fruity Logic and Galaxy Fighter to name a few. During an early release of some screen shots of Monkey Mofo, Sven got in touch and asked if he could do the music for the game. After looking at his portfolio I immediately said yes and we were not disappointed. His music for Monkey Mofo has given a whole new vibe to the game that was sadly missing from Monkey Madness and Ten Monkeys.
What makes your game different from other indie games on the market?
I can’t say that it’s just one thing that makes Monkey Mofo different from most other indie games as for me it’s a combination of things. I have been making games for over 30 years which has a large impact on the games I make. Over those 30 years I have honed my skills and the work I do today I could not have dreamed of doing in 1982 when I started. There are many Indie game makers out there that are still learning their craft and not had the benefit of learning when the games industry was just a hand full of people learning from each other and pushing the small machines to their limits. Back in the early days of the games industry gameplay was king and I still have that philosophy today in every game I make. Monkey Mofo, and for that matter Tonga, are original ideas, even though I would love to make a really nice platform game in the Mario style, I don’t because my philosophy is to make original games and not copy or clone others. Even though Monkey Mofo has some elements seen in other games like collecting stars and such, it’s the core mechanic and the way it’s done that sets it apart.
Some indie developer write the code and make the graphics once, and their friends like it so they think it’s finished, however as I said before I sketch in code and art, which involves rewriting the 90% of the game more than once and redoing the graphics over and over until I have 100% happy with them. Later even when I am happy with what I have done I go through again 4 or 5 times polishing, tweaking and adjusting everything adding little touches here and there to make it as perfect as I can. This process has taken me years and years to learn which is what makes Monkey Mofo stand out from some of the others in this space.
How difficult is it to promote your game in such a competitive market?
Wow this is a big question, as you see I have not had that much luck in the digital publishing arena, so for Monkey Mofo I decided to do the whole thing ourselves and that way we are not relying on some publisher to push our game. Due to the lack of real marketing by marmalade for Tonga in December last year I started reading a lot of articles of how to market and publish on our own. I took a month off from the Game and wrote the Lucky Red Fish website which has a full Content management system back end so I can add articles and interesting links that would get people to come to my site. At the top of 90% of the pages I put a big logo for Monkey Mofo which I hope is getting the name of the game out there.
I added Piwik to all the pages, so I can monitor which articles and which referrer is having the most impact in getting the users to my site. Every time I write or post something new I put links to the information on many of the games forum websites like Touch Arcade, Facebook, Reddit and many more. I put it live in the period during the Christmas break and started adding articles and stories, building it up to what it is today. So far it’s going ok, some of the articles have had more success than others and it was only just recently that I learned that people want the back story, they appear to be interested in the people behind the games and how they made them. I posted two articles, one about how I got started in games and the other about when I did the Teenage mutant hero turtles which got over 2600 hits in the first 24 hours of publishing which was amazing as most of my other stuff was only getting about 100 hits at the most.
But all this is taking time which makes it quite difficult to keep on track with the games development; however I do realise that it’s massively important step and needs to be taken care of. The good news is that if you Google “Monkey Mofo” my game is all over the first page of the results and Lucky Red Fish comes up even if you Google “Lucky Red”, or “Lucky indie”, but the only way I will truly know if it’s all been worth it will be in game sales.
While I am here I think I should say something about Facebook pages for Indie sites, while its nice and necessary to have a Facebook page, I think it’s not the best way to run a blog or get users to see your game, as most of the time it’s only your friends that really get to see it and every time someone writes on your Facebook page it pushes the articles and information about your game down your timeline, so I think that Indie developers should take time out and get a real blogging website with a real domain name and link to that from their Facebook page.
You may also be wondering why I have gone into so much detail and spent the best part of two days creating this article, it’s just more of the way I am marketing Monkey Mofo, I feel we can’t get away just a few lines, if we expect to engage the users we need to bare our souls and hope that it pays off in the bank.
What would you have done differently if given the time, money and/or technology?
If money was no object I would probably have hired a professional artist as even though I am happy with my work and Monkey Mofo looks great, I still think it could be better and a different perspective on the creative side may have added even more value to the game. I would also like to have Monkey Mofo on the Wii and Xbox as well as IOS, Android, Blackberry, Mac and PC, but I just don’t have the time or money at the moment but maybe that’s an avenue I can explore after the game is out and I have made a few bucks.
Another thing I would love to do is hire someone to take care of marketing as they would have more time to devote to it which would take some stress off Thy who has built our twitter audience from 150 to over 1400 in the just a few months. I did have an interesting email from Andreas Henzler of Immanitas Entertainment who offered to publish Monkey Mofo, promising to use a PR company to promote my game, but he wanted 50% of the game, and after a little research of the games that he had promoted, I found that they had not really had a great volume of sales at that time and therefore I felt that he was bring nothing to the table that I could not do myself.
At any point, did you just want to give up with the project? if yes, how did you overcome this?
There is always a point of whether the effort is worth it and to be honest I don’t know yet as this is the first game that I have marketed on my own. There was a point when I was making the backgrounds for the game, I was going round in circles creating, rendering, then trying them out and not being happy with them and starting over. But then my neighbour Chris who is just starting to in game development came down from the flat upstairs and we worked on them together and they took a whole new direction which is what I was missing.
Do you plan on submitting your game to Steam Greenlight or starting a Kickstarter?
Yes I will be submitting Monkey Mofo to Greenlight however I am not happy with the amount of obvious Trolls that frequent Steam and despite what anyone says, some of the thoughtless comments hurt developers feelings and their willingness to carry on, so I for me it’s a worrying step. Sometime the users forget that we make game for them not for us and they don’t realize the amount of effort and dedication it takes to make a game.
I don’t quite understand what’s going on with the greenlight on steam as I see many games on there that obviously are not pure Indie games, like Dragons Lair, which is a game that was made in the 80s from an arcade machine and sold reasonably well, so for me that is not an indie game, and having a one or two person band competing with it and other huge games that obviously has taken a team of over 10 people to develop, in my mind it’s not a level playing field.
As far as Kickstarter is concerned I think it’s a great project and I will be submitting a future big idea that I am developing with couple of other people to Kickstarter. However I think that there are too many Indies who think that they can get free money for very basic games that they should be funding themselves as hard work costs nothing.
Do you have any advice for people looking to start an indie company and/or game development?
If you want to start making games, start small and make a few games while you are learning your craft. Take your time, don’t be rushed in to releasing it, polish it, remember it’s your art, it’s your passion and relay that passion to your users through the quality of your art. Step back from it and ask yourself is this the best you can do?
Get your friends to play your game and get some feedback early. I know how hard it is to let your master piece out of the door and show people even your friends, but it is a necessary step to know where the problems lay. I would suggest that you don’t sit and explain how to play or what to do, but rather if you can, just stand and watch them play from behind, I think you will learn much more by watching than explaining, for me if I need to explain anything then there is something I need to add to the game or something is not as intuitive as I imagined. It is hard to take criticism and sometimes we are so wrapped up in our own development world, but we are not making it for us we are making it for the users, so listen and watch then think about it, they may be wrong they may be right, either way just going through this process will be worth it in the end.
That concludes the first in the series. I would like to thank Patrica for taking part and I wish Lucky Red Fish all the best for Monkey Mofo.