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Devlog of Rick Henderson And The Artifact Of Gods, eoguelite endless 2D horizontal-scrolling shoot 'em up made in beautiful pixels with Unity 3D.

## Perspective of living as an indie dev in my country

Game development is a really nice job, at least when you’re an indie, not a cog in an AAA crunching machine. You can sit in the comfort of your home and have no expenses for commuting, office rental and eating out, at least that’s how i imagine it to be. But the real question is – can you earn a living wage by doing it? You can read a lot on indie game developer hardships these days. Things are looking quite grim – Steam is not showing too much love for indies, some are afraid the subscription models will start to be a to-go model in selling video games, accessible game engines are making games easier to produce and that makes for a stiffer competition – it’s really hard for your game to be discovered. I’ve seen too many good games with lousy sales numbers because nobody know that they actually existed. A lot of devs are wondering is it really worth it anymore? Is it possible to live by making good games with niche market or do you need to strike gold with new Nuclear Throne or Minecraft? We’ll leave aside the marketing part of the story – you all know it, start as early as possible and build a community, preferably with your own brand if you released games before.
And now, let’s delve into the cold, dark world of numbers. For this analysis, i will be using some Numbeo statistics. According to them, cost of living for a single person in capital of Serbia is around $500 (without rent, which is around$200 for a small flat). It may be a bit hard too look at those numbers objectively, but i don’t know how i would survive with a salary of $500. Realistically, you need$100 for bills regardless of the flat size (if you want flat cable internet, cable TV and a cell phone subscription. Heating, electricity, water and garbage disposal have to be paid) so you’re left with $400, which is enough for you to eat (strictly at home) and maybe spend$50 on leisure. Forget about savings, driving a car and going out.
When i take my family in consideration, the math is following, to live relatively comfortably and maybe spare a few dimes on the side, you need about $2,000 for a three member family (for easier calculation, let’s presume that your SO has no income). That amounts to$24,000 a year. If you are selling your game for $10, Steam takes 30% and you are left with$7. Now, you probably think “Wow, only 2 grand to live comfortably with a family? What is this dreamland you’re living in?” and yes, Serbia IS a cheap country compared to most of the European countries and that is all fine, but my country has no tax treaty with US and it makes a lot of impact compared to other more expensive-to-live-in countries that have tax treaty with US. So, i have to give another 30% in taxes to the US. So, i’m left with meager $4.90 if i’m lucky to sell the game at full price. But that’s not the end of taxation, i have to pay some taxes in my country too. If i earn up to$23,000, i don’t pay any income taxes, but from $23,000 to$45,000 i pay 10%, and over that i pay 15%. Let’s say i managed to earn more than those $23,000 a year and i have to pay 10% of income tax. That means i need to have a net profit of$27,000 to earn a nice living wage for me and my family. To make a net profit of $27,000 i need to sell around 5,500 copies of the game at full price. That’s quite a number. Now, according to this article, the average game on Steam will sell about 2.000 copies and make$12.500 in revenue in its first month. The average game will make $30.000 in its first year. I’m not quite sure what do they mean by “make”, but i guess it’s the revenue. So if you’re from around here and make an average game, you’ll be left with around$15.000, which is around $1250. A fine salary that most of the people living here dream of (average is around$350-$400) and it’s ok if you’re living alone and have no family to support. But, lest we forget the cost of making the game itself. Unless you are a multitalented person that knows how to program, draw in 2D, model in 3D, rig and animate, design sound and make music, you need to spend some money to pay someone who does any of those better than you and has the time to do it. Until now, i spent around$4,000 on Rick Henderson. Sure, there’s some stuff like assets which are one in a lifetime expenditure and some of the art made will be left unused, but i need even more to finish the game (reason why i’m making an IndieGoGo campaign), so if all went perfect from the start, i think i would need minimum $5,000 to make a game of this caliber. So let’s readjust the figures. I no longer need$27,000 but \$32,000 net profit so i have some money to invest in the next game, and that translates into 6,500 copies of the game at full price. How did the others do?
How some of the similar games fared on Steam? I will use the data from the big Steam leak from last July in this one, so some data may be a bit off, but not too much i presume. Taken into account will only be some games of a newer date, since older once basically guaranteed sales once they were on Steam.
Super Hydorah – This fantastic game sold only 2,073 copies. It was already selling for a year when data leaked, so i presume it didn’t sell many more after that. But the price was a bit high i must say, €20. If it did sell 2k copies at that price, that’s cool, especially considering it’s a one man game.
Starr Mazer DSP – Still in early acces, but sold a nifty 5,500 copies for 10 bucks a pop. Nice, but their press kit says three of them are making the game, and paid artist is doing graphics.
Drifting Lands – Not really your usual shmup, but fits the genre. 8,275 copies for €18,99. Also, at least two guys work there, but probably more, so it’s not much of a success.
Steel Rain – We’re getting into five figure sale numbers. A whopping 10,440 sold games, full price €9,99, but there’s almost two digit number of people in their studio, so i’m not sure how successfull this was. Monolith – 10,880 copies sold by three guys. Price – €7,99. Great success if you ask me. I suppose they sold a decent number of copies since then too. Super Galaxy Squadron EX Turbo – 25,940 at €8,19. I suppose a lot of those copies sold at a discount, and as far as i can see they happen pretty often. Now it’s on sale at €2,99 so i guess that’s closer to median sales price. There’s a lot of them there, so i can’t even presume how many of them took part into making the game actually (and reaping the profits). Sky Mercenaries – Made by PolarityFlow, team that also made Steel Rain. 30k+ copies, regular sales price €9,99, pretty good. Steredenn – These guys kicked ass. 50k+ copies made by only two of them plus musicians and a pixel artist which probably had their fixed cut. At €12,99, hell, even at half the price, this game made a small fortune for them. One game it’s like to point out to is Star Saviors, game that sells for €0,99 and has sold 300k+ copies. I haven’t played it but it’s not my cup of tea regarding rendered graphics, though i must say it looks like it feels good to play and makes me wonder of the pricing policy and what is right to do.
I didn’t take into account games like Ikaruga, Mushihimesama and Crimzon Clover, they’re quite specific and have their own audience. Bear in mind all these developers live in countries which are more expensive to live in than in my country, but also have tax treaties with the US to some extent.
Summa summarum
When i take all things into account, i didn’t move my point of view too far. I still believe that you need to have a top notch product (compared to few years ago, where you could be cool if you have a contagious game with maybe not so good graphics) to even scratch the surface. You need to start marketing your product as soon as possible, build a community and be involved if you want to have a crack at selling your game in a decent number of copies that will enable you to live nice until you launch your next game.

Posts

## How i made my IndieGoGo campaign

After more than two whole years of toiling, sleepless nights, stiff fingers and dry eyes, i finally reached the point where i’m ready to show something more complete to the world and prepare for the crowdfunding campaign that will help me bring the game to a final release. While Kickstarter clearly enables a wider audience, it is not available in my country so i didn’t have much choice of a platform for crowdfunding – IndieGoGo was basically the only way to gogo (sorry for the pun). Preparing the campaign was a really tough process and i admit it took me a while with all the other things i have to do in my life.

Additional gfx works – Additional graphics include finishing the Rokh Raiders sprites (the sixth faction that has not been finished), background elements, bullets, special effects, explosions and works on the Galaxy Database. I approximate that 1.000 USD is needed for all of that. It might seem much, but bear in mind that’s only 33 hours of more or less standard artist pay, or 4 eight hour work days, which is a really, really short amount of time when you look at it. Translations – They cost around 0.1 USD per word for translating the basic user interface and options, but a lot more if i plan on translating the Galaxy Database. But for the basic translation into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese, i approximate that around 100-200 USD will be needed since the game does not have many words. Fees and taxes – Steam Fee is 100 USD and Indiegogo takes 5%, and then there’s income taxes too, which will come around to 10-20% for this amount.

Music and SFX – Music licenses are very expensive to obtain, but i am in contact with several musicians that are willing to let me use their music for an IndieGoGo and revenue cut. Still, it will probably come to around at least 10% of the funding. I have been a music producer for more than 15 years so the sound effects will be handled by myself. I could probably do the music too, but i don’t have enough time and there are a lot of people that do it better than me anyway. When you add all that, it comes to about 3.000,00 USD, which is an amount that i’m frankly scared of. I invested a bit more than that in the game until now, and seeing that it was enough only for the half of the graphic assets that are needed for the game of this caliber is frightening.

While the game itself is not a revolutionary product that will break the genre, i do believe it stands out a lot among lots of shmups that are out there at the moment. First of all, the graphics are reminiscing of golden age of Amiga 500 games, beautiful 16-bit pixel art with no rendered or pre-rendered 3D graphics, but with dynamic lighting. I haven’t seen it in a shmup for some time. Music in the game (at least the tracks i collected until now by Cryocon and Mlada Fronta) is damn fine and i plan to make it on par with the iconic soundtrack of Hotline Miami or old-school hits like Crusader, Unreal Tournament, Rollcage or Project X (you can listen to the tracks here).

Anyway, back to the campaign. At first, i didn’t know what could i possibly offer to the backers beside the game itself. Ok, Early Access is something that i planned anyway, so i could give away that too. I plan on selling the soundtrack separately (all proceedings will go to the artists), so that’s a cool perk to add too, but what else? When i started making the game, i had illusions of grandeur, like every fresh gamedev out there. Rick Henderson as supposed to be a huge single player experience with levels and an intriguing story behind it. When reality struck me, i decided to drop the whole predefined levels concept and i had a lot of ships and weapons descriptions left behind unused. I got to an idea that they can be used for Galaxy Database, a small book of enemy ships and player weapons with their stats, description and a small backstory for each one of them. Lower tier backers will get it in PDF, while high tier backers will be getting a nice hardcover booklet.

To further engage the potential community of backers, one of the perks will be the Community Ship Designer. Backers of that tier will have the exclusive access to hidden Discord channel where they will be able to create an enemy that will appear in the game together. Sure, it will be a challenge for me since it has to be in certain design boundaries (and maybe technically, who knows what people can think of), but i think it’s a rather cool reward.

Name on a blimp is purely cosmetic. If you really like shmups and you got a lot of dough to spare, your name will appear on a space blimp with a large display on it (think Blade Runner).

Finally, with only 5 available, you can design you own enemy (not a boss though) by working with me and a graphics guy. Might not seem as much, but creating an enemy that is interesting and balanced is quite time consuming, let alone 5 of them.

Ok, i’ve got the amount i need, backer rewards and now i need to present the game in the best possible light. I hate punchlines and single sentence descriptions, but it needs to be done. Put your whole game in one sentence. It’s like an elevator pitch, but you don’t even have the time to ride to the first floor, just poke your head through the elevator door and shout one sentence. So i came up with Endless horizontal-scrolling shoot ’em up experience with infinite replayability. Well yeah, it’s infinitely replayable, but in a way that it will never get boring. I decided not to use terms like procedural or roguelike since, honestly, i believe players already have an aversion when they read those words. It is endless since it doesn’t end, you can only die. Obviously, it’s horizontal-scrolling shoot ’em up, and i like to call it an experience, since it’s an audio-visual experience made for connoisseurs of the genre and style.

I made sure to be perfectly clear how the game loop functions, how the weapons/armor relations work, even if it’s dead simple to understand and provide as much material as possible for the players to see how the game sounds and looks like. Screenshots were easy to take, but resizing images to fit in IndieGoGo’s predefined image sizes and remain pixel perfect was a pain in the ass. Preparing a small teaser took days of work and i can’t say i’m happy with the final result in terms of video quality. Unity’s inbuilt recorder compresses the video even on high setting and artifacts appear when there’s a lot of stuff going on on the screen, but i believe it’s good enough to be used as a proof of concept and let the backers know what’s it all about.

Unfortunately, i wasn’t able to provide the demo since i think it’s too early and i’m a bit of perfectionist. I regard that as the biggest flaw of my campaign and i hope it will do well even without it.

One of the things that really makes me proud and that i want to point out is the dedication to inclusion. I want everyone to be able to play the game. I’m positive that colorblind modes will probably include more tweaking than simple filters implementation, but turning off shakes and flashes will mean a lot to someone who’s suffering from problems related to photosensitivity but like shoot ’em ups. High-contrast mode is going to demand quite an overhaul, but if all goes well i’m all for it.

My fears? Shoot ’em ups are quite a niche of a genre so i’m scared how many people will be interested in a game like Rick Henderson. Deep inside i believe there’s a lot of folks that want to see something new that’s not a bullet hell or reissue of an old classic, but a modern envisionment of the classics that marked an era.

You can find the pre-launch page here and if you had a good read and are interested in seeing this project come to life, subscribe to be notified when the campaign is launched or share it – every bit helps

## Scoring System Design

One of the most important aspects in a shoot ’em up is certainly score. Being somewhat a niche of a genre, it has a clear competitive edge among its players. It certainly lacks fulfillment in terms of engaging story, but the adrenaline rush in combination with the goal of attaining higher and higher scores or even being on the top of the leaderboard is something really hard to beat and is specific to the genre. With that in mind, a good shmup scoring system has to be easy to understand and engaging at the same time. While it sounds simple, it can be quite hard to achieve a good “funness” factor while keeping it engaging and skill related. For Rick Henderson and the Artifact of Gods, i dissected a ton of old and new shoot ’em ups in the search for the perfect scoring system i like. One of my all time favorites is certainly Galaga Deluxe (or Warblade for PC folks) for Amiga 500 from late Mr. Edgar M. Vigdal. Besides coins used for shop purchases (which this game won’t be using until singeplayer mode is done), in Galaga you can collect gems too. Those little cuties come in different shapes and colors and each one yields a different amount of points. While not groundbreaking, it adds another layer of depth to the game besides dodging as some gems are really worth running for through a rain of bullets. Naturally, tougher enemies have higher percentage of dropping rarer gems that yield higher score addition. Another form of bonuses that can be picked up are medals. Far from my knowledge, medaling is prominent in shoot ’em ups. The concept is easy: you pick up differently colored medals, when you have the whole set, you get awarded a rank at the end of the level and the medal collection is resetted when you start the next level. You guessed it, ranks are just another name for total bonus multiplier at the end of the game. There is a total of 9 ranks you can attain (the first being the multiplier of 1, which is your default rank): Recruit
Private
Corporal
Sergeant
Lieutenant
Captain
Major
Colonel
Marshal

## Playing with lights

Every now and then you have to change your routine to avoid boredom and relax. So, i started playing around with light to add some depths. Looking good so far!   The post Playing with lights appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## Backgrounds work

I bought this little fella (http://www.wacom.com/en-br/products/pen-tablets/one-wacom-m) a while ago but i never found time to play around with it. This weekend was very hot so i was mostly home and i’ve drawn a background for the game, hope you dig it. Took me a few hours. The post Backgrounds work appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## Aaarrr!!!

Pirate faction led by mighty Thoraxx!The post Aaarrr!!! appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## Dev Log #2

Weapon switching is, compare to the upgrade and pickup system, a walk in the park. Stored weapons are simply activated/deactivated by pressing the switch key. Scripting this thing alone would probably take a lot more time than it did, so using Playmaker did the job pretty quick since i can try something out in a matter of seconds, not waiting to write a couple of lines with risk of making syntax errors. But, here comes the downside. Instead of making the script that can just be copied/pasted on all weapons (have in mind that there are 23 weapon with 3-5 levels each, so that comes to about a hundred prefabs, with more to come), i have to copy/paste an FSM to every weapon and tweak the variables in each one of them. I don’t have to tell you that if any larger scale fixes in logic are necessary when all the weapons are already prepared it will be a lot of work to change everything. Not to mention the possibility of making errors when managing such a tedious task. One more thing i did is implementing the sprite atlas which reduced draw calls a lot, and boosted frame rate from 15-30 FPS to ~150. Now everything goes very smoothly. There are some hiccups, but those are due to extensive logging which is quite necessary in this phase. Swarm missiles got an overhaul too, now they’re flying nicely in a semi-random homing pattern, they way i imagined them to be. Swarm missiles flying nicely in a semi-random homing mannerAlso, the artist guy did some weapons art for me, some will maybe change, but i thing they’re pretty good looking and quite different. A selection of collectable weaponsThe post Dev Log #2 appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## Dev Log #1

To keep the track of the work done, motivate myself and keep people interested, it’s time to start a Dev Blog. Here’s the first one for the work done in the last few days, enjoy. Design of the Swarm Missiles weapon. Basically (as the name says) it launches a swarm of small missiles from the player ship and every one of them tracks random enemy. It may require an overhaul to make them more random with some sort of unnecessary crazy loops to compensate for their number. The design wasn’t too tough, each missile has a random frontward direction upon launch and a small delay before tracking starts. Every few moments, they change the target they locked on to so they move randomly in a natural, swirly manner. Design of the Randomizer (work title) weapon which shoots a lot of particles but to compensate for their number they move slowly in a random forward pattern and are fairly weak, but can protect you from swarms of smaller enemies. Pretty useless against big enemies though. Design of the Shield with regeneration timer and connection to the shield integrity bar. Still needs connecting to the heat transfer mechanism (when you get hit, shield takes the damage, but your heat level increases, energy transfer stuff). Design of the Auto Cannon Drone. It tracks closest enemy, rotates towards it and fires. If no enemies are present, it stops firing. Oh, it also follows player of course. Design of the Ripper, basically a manual shooting shotgun that sprays multiple bullet in a cone, that was pretty easy to make. It shoots as fast as you can click, deals a lot of damage it all bullets hit the target, but it heats a lot, so i have to disappoint you if you’re a Starcraft player with million clicks per minute and plan to win the game using Ripper only. Design of the Flak Cannon. Like the real Flak, it has proximity activated “fuse”. At a certain distance from the enemy it explodes and blasts into a lot of small pellets. Great against small enemies. Design of the Proximity Mines. Regular mines just floating in space were designed a while ago, but i decided to put a bit more challenging ones. When you get near one, it shoots a laser ray which locks on to your ship (doesn’t damage it though) and starts slowly moving towards you until you destroy it. I also designed the EMP mines that will work the same way, but deal less damage and mess up your screen with glitch effects. Also updated the mines with random rotation and blinking red light so they’re a bit more interesting looking and easier to spot.   Homing Mines – slow but deadlyThe post Dev Log #1 appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## SunDyne Corporation is coming to get you

You got what we want. We are coming to get you. The post SunDyne Corporation is coming to get you appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## Presenting the Paragons

Paragons are mysterious faction of occultists that use phase shifting and cloaking ships based on that funny yellow balls full of energy. Hard to hit something when it constantly changes it’s position, right?The post Presenting the Paragons appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## All Rift Miners revealed (for now)

There’s going to be few more factions, so sit tight. The post All Rift Miners revealed (for now) appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## TR2 “Transporter” Detected

The post TR2 “Transporter” Detected appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.

## WR7 “Welder” Detected

The post WR7 “Welder” Detected appeared first on Fat Pug Studio.