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Good news everyone! My ongoing efforts at acting like an extrovert are paying off!
Well... not PAYING yet per se, but they are having a noticeable and empirically traceable effect.
The current development cycle goes something like this:
I watch the social sites all week and make notes of the feedback I get including bugs and suggestions for gameplay tweaks.
A few things happen during the week like a new sounds or sprites get made by the artistic teammates.
The three of us that are currently engaged with the project talk about it on the Google+ private community I set up just for this purpose.
The weekend arrives to where I implement all the changes that I have received and solved during the week.
Friday or Saturday, I build and release an "odd" version for internal testing and feedback. (Ex: 0.1.9)
Sunday is when the game gets bugfixed from new bugs that popped up for whatever reason and I update the version info file.
Late Sunday, I build the "even" version and upload it to the project page at IndieDB.com for public download. (Ex: 0.2.0)
Late Sunday / early Monday, I write up the IndieDB.com news article and upload some screenshots to stay on their front page.
Monday I write journals and blogs like this one in about three different places about the progress and learning I've accomplished that week.
Next verse... same as the first!
First off, if you have been following these journals, you can see the progression of "polish" in the quality of the artwork provided by the screenshots embedded in the article. It's like watching evolution in fast-forward.
Secondly, through my efforts, I now have the seed of a community. Some early adopters, if you will. People beyond relatives and lifelong friends are now noticing this game (and, by extension, me). While I make no effort to conceal the fact that I'm an introvert and very uncomfortable putting myself in the spotlight, I've noticed that to succeed in promoting a product, it has to get seen. And since I'm not rolling in pallets of cash and can't pay someone else to do it for me, that means it's up to me to get out of my comfort zone (check!) and do it myself. And so I have...
As of this posting, the ranking on IndieDB for Super Gunball DEMO is 216 of 11335. Last night before I uploaded Version 0.2.0, it was in the mid-3000 range. I watch it all week like a new cook hovers over the oven. Since I've been in this cycle for about a month now, I am seeing the cause-and-effect of my social campaign actions reflected in the metrics provided by IndieDB. It is exhilarating. Learning how to work the social networks and drive traffic to and fro across the web is a fascinating study. I am still uncomfortable with it, but it's interesting nonetheless.
So the quest continues to make a polished demo of a game in hopes of it leading to a successful Kickstarter and development of a Full Version! Thank you for reading my ramblings! Don't forget to help an up-and-coming Indie by going to LIKE my Facebook Page and Download the Lastest Version of Super Gunball DEMO! (The page hits drive the popularity index up!)
I joined GameDev.net a couple months ago to see what I could learn about transitioning from a hobbyist game developer to a professional one. I'm still learning, but from what I can tell, it's not going to be easy or quick to do from my residence in Kentucky. Considering that I am unlikely to be moving anytime soon, (middle-aged with dependent family) I've decided to make things work from here. As such, I'm pushing myself to polish up a project of mine to professional-grade quality to learn more about game development in general and what it takes to market and publish a title.
The project I've chosen for this effort is Gunball: a game I've been working off-and-on for over a year now, not thinking that it would ever amount to anything. Originally made while I was using the GameMaker 8.1 Lite (Free!) IDE, it is a platformer game with a super-bouncey ball as the protagonist. Playing on the word "gumball" there is a weapon attached to this ball which swivels to point in the direction of the mouse position. About this time last year, I bought GameMaker: Studio Pro (on sale!) and ported the project to the new development environment. (Not too bad as the versions were almost fully compatible.)
So after making some training levels, some forest-themed levels, enemies, bosses, and powerups, I ran into a snag... making the sound and art components. Yes, I had made some art for the ball, platforms, and enemies, but they were (and still mostly are)... primitive. The whole game was completely silent, too. I hadn't made a single "wav" file. Sure, Gunball was playable and my youngest son thought it was "kinda cool", but it wan't going to become the talk of the playground by any means. Simply put: it was incomplete.
Since I had used GameMaker to make the game so far, I posted what I had in the Works In Progress thread on their forums and hoped for some feedback. I got none. Spent for the moment, life went on. I hobbied out a few more game ideas in GameMaker, learning the IDE and the GML scripting language, but I kept coming back to Gunball. A little tweak here. An inspiration there. It's stayed my most "possible" first game for personal public release.
The internet is a wonderful thing. Everything is so... connected. It is no surprise that I eventually stumbled across GameDev.net as I was browsing articles and comments on Gamasutra. The site looked established and well-supported. So, making myself at home after a few days of familiarizing myself, I jump right in to the forum conversations. The talk is inspiring! It feels... right. I'm among my own kind!
Reinvigorated, I get back to work on Gunball and make a little progress before hitting that damn wall that is still in my way to reaching a finished product. I re-realize that I just can't do this alone. (More truthfully, I don't want to do this alone as it would require me learning how to make my own art and sounds, which I could, but it just doesn't interest me to do so.) Enter the Classifieds tab... there is a Hobbyist Projects sub-category there! Look! I found a sound designer wanting to work on a project that has some potential to actually get finished! Hey! He responded favorably to my interest in using his talents! I'm back in the game, baby! And that is how I picked up my first (and only as of this post) partner for this project.
The feedback my newly-partnered sound engineer gave me on the state of the game was taken to heart. Gunball was rebranded to Super Gunball in the spirit of the NES/SNES feel we both played with growing up. Just having one person to talk to about the project made a huge difference in my personal motivation. More progress has been made on the development of Super Gunball in the past month than was made in the past year. It helps that his musical talent and interests coincide with the overall theme of the game. Now there is talk of this project being a demo for a much larger game with more worlds and levels. (and powerups, and themes, and gimmicks, and... feature creep!) I agree that this first outing with the levels I have already made is good to be a demo if we can get it polished enough to look professional. If this demo (which will be free) can catch enough attention to generate a large enough fan base , there may just be a future to this title. But to get a fan base built up, the word as to get out. Now that there is music, I have to face it: I have to go social.
Oh no! Marketing! Now I'm not a basement-dweller, but I'm not a bar-hopping partier either. My Facebook friends list is a few dozen names long, not a few hundred. I wouldn't call myself outright anti-social. I'm better described as... social-resistant. I don't care for crowds. It's not a crippling fear like in the movie Finding Forrester, but I do get cranky when I find myself in a crowded area. This tendency of mine makes it difficult to make a lot of relationships. Rather, those relations I do make are few and precious to me. The emphasis is on few. Therefore, my social contacts are limited and expanding them will take me out of my comfort zone. And that's what I am trying to do now.
In preparation of launching myself to the social world of raising awareness for Super Gunball, I made a personal site using Google Sites for my own brand: Meatsack's Workshop. (Feel free to visit.) There, I have posted some things about me and my personal projects and thoughts. I intend to add to it as my life goes on as a kind of portfolio. In addition to the Meatsack's Workshop site, I am writing this journal entry. If for nothing else, than to "put it out there" that I am actively pursing the completion of Super Gunball demo. (If there are any interested artists reading this that want in on the ground floor of this project, please message me. Anyone? Right. I'll try again when I get some cash to actually pay someone.)
Where to go from here? Well... I fully intend (paving stones, I know) to make a Facebook page for Meatsack's Workshop, Super Gunball, or both. More likely, I'll first make an advert* to go in the Classifieds -> Hobbyist Projects on this site begging for an artist to join me just like everyone else. (You can wish in one hand...) If needs be, I'll suffer through my own preschool pixel-art efforts (...in the other...) to give Super Gunball a semi-pro look and to show that I'm at least willing to put in the effort (even if it lacks talent). At least the demo will get to a "done" state that way. (...and see which one gets filled first.) And when will the demo be "done"? In no particular order: When the art is done. When the sound is done. When the playtesting is done. When I say it's done.
As a sign of personal gratitude for your having suffered through my rambling and whining first attempt at a development journal entry, you may follow this LINK to download and play the current version of Super Gunball. Please take time to read the INFO page accessible from the title screen to learn the controls. I swear that it's virus/malware/adware/spyware free or your money back. But it really is clean. Swearsies. All I ask in return is some feedback. Private messages or comments below are both acceptable. Please be honest, but constructive. I can take criticism just fine, but personal attacks will be ineffective and summarily ignored. Talk about the game, please.
EDIT: 8/1/13 *I have posted the advert on this site. LINK Please refer any talented and bored artists my way, please.
Much progress has been made on this build of Super Gunball!
Firstly, I have to say that my efforts at being social have paid off. I posted a classified ad on GameDev.net asking for an artist's help with this game. I also posted a Devlog on the same site. Then I joined the TIGSource.com forums to hob-nob with some other birds of my feather. This has resulted in some personal messages and a few playtester feedback suggestions which I have found to be helpful. There were a few interested parties that could not persuade me that they would be helpful to me right away. (One just wanted to "manage" my project!) But I did make some positive contacts for future projects or perhaps even when I get past the DEMO phase of Super Gunball. [/font][/color]
[color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=Arial]But the best effect that has happened from my social campaign is that an artist has joined the team! Together with the sound engineer I have been working with, we now have the basic needs covered to finish this demo. What's also great is that we all seem to work well together. The team dynamic is cooperative and positive. This past weekend was VERY productive. You can see much of the artist's efforts in the screenshots below. The most obvious additions are the training background, the training targets, the worm and bee sprites (now animated!), and the Gunball itself (now with 100% more bandanna!). What you can't see in screenshots is the "boss music" that plays while fighting a boss. Nor can you see the lessons I learned about scripting the game. (Remember, it's made in GameMaker, not a "real" programming language. So what?) We still have a long way to go in polishing this game, but we have made much progress and are determined to see it through! [/font][/color]
[color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=Arial]How can you help? I'm glad you asked! I'm always looking for feedback and suggestions. Playtesting and bug finding are constant processes. Also, spreading the word about Super Gunball and its progress would be great. I really think it's an up-and-comer game. (Of course I do! It's my baby!) You can see and download the latest build of the game HERE. If you want to see the progress we've made in each iteration, feel free to look at the older versions as well. (Same link.) As always, interested parties may reach me by Private Message at Gamedev.net or in the forums at TIGSource.com. I go by Meatsack in both places. [/font][/color]
[color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=Arial]Don't forget to check out my (still small) website: Meatsack's Workshop