Next is a game I cannot wait to get my hands on – ‘Hyphen’ developed by FarSpace Studios Hyphen is not available yet but will be initially available on XBLIG and on PC via our own website and hopefully Steam and Desura [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0wSBkEe328[/youtube]
Please tell us a little bit about your game.
Hyphen is a visually stunning action/puzzle game that will appeal to your “just one more go” instinct and push you to your limits of coordination, timing and patience! The aim of Hyphen is to navigate a rotating stick through each one of the 36 challenging yet mesmerizing levels while avoiding contact with the walls and negotiating obstacles and traps. Unlike other games of this type, there is no room for error as a mistake results in an immediate and dramatic explosion of the stick. It’s the sort of game that anyone can pick up and play but only a few will truly master it.
How did you come up with the idea behind your game?
I’ve always been a fan of this type of game and myself and Robert (the other half of FarSpace Studios) have toyed with the idea of making a game like Hyphen for a long time, albeit in various different themes. The issue I have always had with other games of this type is that they either:- A.) Simply aren’t challenging enough B.) Are overly complicated to play C.) Are of a substandard production quality or D.) Are aimed squarely at children as far as graphics and themes go, this being the most common issue. We wanted to make something that stood out as a great game, is enjoyable by everyone and provided a heck of a run for it’s money where challenge and playability is concerned. We finally decided to start working on Hyphen (or Spinning Stick Game as it was known before we decided on Hyphen as a name) in May last year as a distraction from a longer term project we were working on. It quickly took priority though as it is just down right fun to work on. The visual and audio style of the game is loosely based on Tron : Legacy as it is just an awesome film and stunning to experience in both the visible and audible sense. We also took some visual inspiration from Geometry Wars with it’s eye popping neon geometric shapes and bold colours. A lot of the ideas for enemies, traps and obstacles in Hyphen have been thought of during the many coffee meetings myself and Robert have on a weekly basis and usually start life as a scribble surrounded by ideas in text. The levels and objects are basically all designed and hand drawn by me when I am feeling creative (literally a put-pencil-to-paper-and-see-what-happens method). Robert then recreates them as 3D models that the game engine (our own custom engine) can load in and do the fancy neon shading in real time. Due to being a small studio and in total control of the development of Hyphen we are able to add new things as and when we think of them. In fact a lot of the enemies such as cannons and mines were added to the game after initial feedback that puzzles based purely on coordination and patience were proving to be boring when used too often. We reacted by adding the cannon and mine objects and immediately noticed the benefit. To this day we are still adding new things when we think of them!
How many people were involved with the making of your game?
Up until January this year it was just myself and Robert doing everything. We both have a very similar skill set with the main focus on programming. I tended to do a lot of the initial level and object design whereas Robert has done an awful lot of 3D modelling and turned all my sketches into game assets. We both wrote the game engine from scratch and basically got a very silent version of the game up and running before realising something was missing…Audio! Since none of us really know what we are doing in the audio department we have started working with the very talented Andrew Lloyd (http://www.andrewlloydgd.com) who I was lucky enough to come across in a very random and totally unrelated discussion on twitter. He has created us an amazing original sound track and done quite a lot of the sound effect work. We are now entering into the stages of testing before release. All 3 of us will obviously be involved in that but we have also roped in some of our awesome twitter followers and Facebook fans to help out with the testing. One thing we have learned during the development of Hyphen is not to underestimate the benefit of social networking, it is definitely a small studios best friend.
What makes your game different from other indie games on the market?
The fact that I am involved in making it! Seriously though, joking aside it’s actually quite difficult to put my finger on any particular thing as there are quite a few things. Firstly we have ditched the “we are only an indie studio” excuse for not creating a top notch game and we have ended up with a game that we think will stand out even amongst titles from larger companies. We don’t believe that being a small company without millions of £’s to spend puts you at a disadvantage , it just means you need to use what you do have more effectively and be that little bit more resourceful. Quality and gameplay experience have been the very top priority from day one, not an afterthought. As an example, precision games like Hyphen require extremely good and fast collision detection so as not to annoy the player by reporting they have hit a wall or object when they haven’t. This is an area we focused on massively and it truly shows as the collision is absolutely pixel perfect and lightning fast. I have played far too many games where collision detection was notably poor and the first thing I did was turn it off. I didn’t want Hyphen to be one of them. Little things like this make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Myself and Robert are also experienced developers with around 25 years experience between us. We have written Hyphen knowing exactly what we wanted and exactly how to do it, sure we have learned a few things along the way but for the most part we have been on track and in control of our project. An awful lot of indie games are created as a learning exercise for the creator. This isn’t a bad thing but the difference in quality between a game from experienced developers and these “learner games” is vast.
How difficult is it to promote your game in such a competitive market?
I’m probably going to go against the grain here and say that I haven’t really found it *too* difficult up to now. I actively take part in discussions in forums, twitter, Facebook and for the most part people seem to be genuinely interested in Hyphen and ask questions off their own accord. At first it was just friends being friends and showing an interest but we are actually getting people we don’t know asking questions and complimenting the game and even random gaming websites wanting early access so they can review it. It has obviously taken some effort to build up a twitter following and actively engaging with the users takes up a lot of time. However, it’s worth it even if it only sells us one more copy than we would have gotten without it so I absolutely will not compromise in this department. At the end of the day marketing is a funny thing, I’m quietly confident I am doing the right thing and making the right noises but who really knows whether it is working until the game gets released? That said, we have done the usual stuff you would expect such as installing Google Analytics onto our site and doing some relatively deep SEO. Every little helps after all!
What would you have done differently if given the time, money and/or technology?
The main thing if given the time would have been to write a game engine that doesn’t rely on XNA/MonoGame as a base library. Not that these technologies are bad, in fact they are amazing to work with and it has been a blast but now we have to spend lots of money to buy Mono licenses for the mobile platforms in order to release on them and use MonoGame. It’s a worthwhile cost and even if we’re unlucky, poor sales of Hyphen should cover it eventually. However it is a barrier and I don’t like barriers (unless they’re there for my safety…). I would also have liked to get a professional artist on board from day 1. Hyphen looks great already but just imagine the potential if we had had a truly professional artistic eye on it? If we ever do a sequel to Hyphen and we have the money available, this is something we will be doing.
At any point, did you just want to give up with the project? if yes, how did you overcome this?
In short – no. I have wished for the project to be over and done with more times than I have had hot dinners but I can truly say I have never wanted to give up. Anyone who has ever made a game will tell you that it is hard work, time consuming and affects your social and family life for a considerable amount of time. I have often doubted whether the effort will be worth it for the possible reward (I’m doubting it as I write this sentence actually as it’s now on my mind), but how will I ever know the answer to my doubts unless I give it a go? Working as a team with Robert also helps, I wouldn’t just be letting myself down if I gave up on Hyphen, it would also be letting Robert down as he has invested a lot of time and effort into the game too. The same applies to Andrew Lloyd as he has also invested a lot of time and effort into creating Hyphens soundtrack.
Do you plan on submitting your game to Steam Greenlight or starting a Kickstarter?
Funny you should ask! We have already had a go at raising money on Kickstarter to pay for the Mono licenses on iOS and Android. We failed miserably. To cut a long story short our campaign was terrible, it’s something I’d rather not dwell on but I’ve learned an awful lot since then and I know exactly where we went wrong. That said, we won’t be trying to raise money for Hyphen on Kickstarter again. We have developed it without the funding up to this point so we may as well carry on as we are. I would also rather not get a bad reputation for Hyphen because we have had multiple campaigns. We are open to using it for future projects though. As for Greenlight, we will definitely be submitting the game when it’s ready. I’m the first to admit that this is a scary step for us as the service seems to be host to a lot of people that just want to sit and insult games because they are not Call of Duty or Battlefield. It feels like you are buying a very expensive lottery ticket as there is no guarantee your game will ever be accepted yet you still have to pay for trying. As you’ve probably noticed by now though, I am very confident in Hyphen and I think we have a fair shot at getting Greenlit, we may take a few knocks on the way but I’m up for the challenge!
Do you have any advice for people looking to start an indie company and/or game development?
Where to begin? Hmmm. Well first of all I would advise anyone to stay well clear. If that didn’t deter them then they are probably crazy enough to be a game developer and I would welcome them to one of the most demanding but rewarding professions there is! The main thing is to get good at what you do in your own time, don’t rush into anything. Making games is an art and a science all rolled into one, it isn’t something you can or should learn overnight. Sure some people do but that doesn’t necessarily make them a good developer. I would also say it is a very good idea to develop a thick skin and learn to take criticism on the chin and learn from it. There are far too many game developers that aren’t able to take any sort of feedback that happens to be negative . How are you supposed to learn what is good and what is bad if you expect everyone to tell you what you have made is awesome? We have all made a terrible game at some point and most of us laugh about it, it isn’t the end of the world – it’s the very best lesson you will ever learn. Last but not least, embrace social networks from a very early stage. You can use them to learn, promote and meet other people with similar interests. The indie development scene is a competitive arena but I have yet to meet a member of it that isn’t willing to help their peers.