I’ve recently begun a new episodic webgame series which is a continuation of the Space Captain McCallery games. Find it here http://renegadesector.com/
So for a while I’ve been wanting to write up a post-mortem or retrospective of sort on my games, both as a way to talk about what I was trying to acomplish with the games, and also to analyze what I’ve learned from them. I’m going to start from the beginning and write short post-mortems for each game on my game page starting from Charge the Lasers and going up to Space Captain McCallery: Flash Landing (excluding Strange Route, as that was a group project for a Global Game Jam).
Charge the Lasers:
This was the first full game to come out of my short-lived weekly prototype experiment. I had made 4 prototypes over the course of 4 weeks. I was a game design student at the time, and I would show the prototypes to my fellow game design students to get feedback. The Charge the Lasers! prototype was the one I felt was strongest and most developed, so I decided to expand it into a fuller game.
I still like the mechanic behind the game. You had to shoot enemies of matching colors to charge your super-laser which could damage the enemy. What this in effect did was put more of an emphasis on aiming as opposed to most SHMUPs which tend to focus more on dodging. So in terms of the basic mechanic, I feel this game was a success.
However,this game highlighted the weak-points in my game design education. I had been taught to think in terms of prototyping gameplay mechanics, but not as much in terms of overall presentation. When I first posted this game for feedback, I got a very helpful response from Matt Thorson reminding me of the importance of things like sound effects. In this aspect, the game was quite a learning experience.
Your Sensibilities are Useless Here:
This was another game spawned from one of the 4 week-long prototypes, but this one diverged more from its origin. This was an attempt to emulate the sensory overload style of indie designers such as cactus and Meshof. If I remember correctly, Rob Faeron released his sensory overload games while I was working on this, and I remember a bit of an “oh shit” feeling when I realized those games made this game look as mundane as space invaders.
I consider this my first proper game. The first game of mine where it wasn’t a glorified prototype, where the sprite-art was semi-decent, and the first game I felt like some element of my own style was coming through.
I started this game out of pure frustration. I was alone one night, and I think I had a few larger projects I had been attempting which were not going well. I decided I really wanted something I could at least prototype that night. The idea started as a person rolling down a mountain, hitting other people and causing them to roll down the mountain together, and so on. I didn’t quite know how I would make that, but I liked the idea of people running into each other and transferring their momentum. After considering it a bit, I changed it from rolling down a mountain to riding an out-of-control jetpack.
One major issue with this game is that I’ve never been able to come up with a concise and easily understood way of explaining this game. Mostly because you are, in essence, playing as a series of people rather than just one. You play as whoever is flying in the jetpack at the time, and that person is constantly changing. Despite that, I really like the premise of this.
I also put in a little touch that is still one of my favorite things I’ve put into a game. Near the end of each level, instead of a person on top of a building that you can run into, there is another jetpack. If you hit it, you end the level as a jetpack riding another jetpack, and can just run into enemies to defeat them.
One thing I do regret about this game, however, is that I didn’t spend more time smoothing out the difficulty curve. I cannot beat this game. My thought at the time was that SHMUPS are usually to difficult for me to beat, so I should make it that difficult. However, I think this was a mistake, and the game should have had a steadier difficulty curve.
Dadaists Gone Wild:
Ah, Dadaists Gone Wild. By far my most successful downloadable game. Its the only one of my games to enter the quadruple digits in terms of downloads.
The story of how I came to make this game is thus: I was chatting with a friend online. This was shortly after GDC time and stories of cactus getting drunk and making out with everyone and pictures of indie designers wearing diapers were surfacing on the TIGForums. My friend remarked that the Indie Community was like “Dadaists Gone Wild”. I immediately decided that this should be the name of a game, and set about to writing down what would happen in this game. About half of the game was planned out in one stream of consciousness that I wrote that night. The woman turning into a hat and causing you to fly, the bouncy ball, meeting death, replaying the game differently, a sprite from a different game showing up and saying he’s in the wrong game, and so on. As I worked on and thought about the game, I expanded it with some other ideas. Instead of being two worlds long, it became four. The final level was based on a dream I had where I was climbing on a moving truck which went off a jump on the freeway (the freeway ended at a certain point after ramping up). In the dream I could steer the truck by shifting my weight, so I mirrored that in the game by letting you steer the truck by moving forward or back on the truck, although most people playing probably didn’t realize you could do that.
The game was also heavily influenced by the cactus game Psychosomnium. I put in surreal platforming puzzles such as invisible platforms, platforms that appear as you move over them, and platforms that rise to meet you. The goal was to constantly have the game change the rules on the player and keep the player on his or her toes.
This is also my first game to contain secret levels and areas, which is something I really enjoy putting in my games. One of them was created as a sort of punishment for trying to go through one of the levels the easy way, as I had seen some of my friends doing when they tested the game.
All in all, I like how the game turned out, and this will usually be one of the games I show people who want to see my games (if only because it’s great fun to watch people try to play this game). There were a few nagging issues I had with the game after I released it, most of which I went back and fixed with the special edition.
Any Enemy You Like/Turn Based SHMUP
I’m grouping these two games together as they were released in fairly quick succession and were both experiments on the SHMUP genre. They were, along with Dadaists Gone Wild, the only games to get reviewed on a major indie game site (all were reviewed on Play This Thing), and these two games were reviewed together in one article. There’s not really much for me to say about these, other than that they were a couple ideas I had for gimmicky SHMUPS. The first ballances risk-vs-reward by allowing you to throw enemies at yourself with the goal of getting the most points in the time limit while not getting yourself killed. Turn Based SHMUP was exactly what it sounds like, using fuel as a limited resource for moving and shooting. I personally think that Turn Based SHMUP was more of a success of the two experiment, and I could see myself expanding the idea further.
By The Torchlight
The idea for this game is a little piece that fell off of an idea for a much larger game that I’m still planning on making. I began planning a game to use the 3d visual style this game uses, and it became very large. Large to the point that I realized it was actually two games, one very large, and one manageable. Some other elements from this big game have ended up in other games as well, such as the food system in the Space Captain McCallery games.
This was my attempt at making an art game, with a heavy focus on atmosphere. I don’t want to talk about what exactly the game is about, as I’d like to let it speak for itself. I think I pulled off the atmosphere I was going for pretty well, although I’m pretty sure some things, such as the twist at the middle of the game, aren’t communicated very well and most people probably missed what happened.
This was an attempt to make a psychological horror game. Obvious influences from both cactus and Amon26. I think I did a fairly good job visually with this, but the game itself isn’t that great. I think it would have worked better if I had made a fuller game, like an exploration platformer, with the sanity/clarity mechanic, with the character only occasionally and briefly reaching full clarity.
Dadaists Gone Wild 2
Dadaists Gone Wild 2 is my biggest and most developed solo project that I failed to finish. I put in enough work into it and it was long enough that I eventually decided to release the unfinished version just to move it from off my shoulders.
The reasons this failed were twofold. One was that it was that it was overambitious. It was by orders of magnitude the largest game I had worked on at the time. I also put in a lot of hidden areas that were supposed to allow you to unlock entire new Dadaists Gone Wild games.
The second, and, I think, much bigger reason, was that I lost sight of what made the original what it was. I threw in a bunch of random things into Dadaists Gone Wild 2, but they didn’t have the surreal simplicity of the things that happened in the first game. Pretty much all the random bits in Dadaists Gone Wild had some effect on gameplay, and had a twisted sort of anti-logic to them. In trying to make Dadaists Gone Wild 2 so much larger, the clever bits got spread out very thin, and most of the game was just regular metroidvania platforming with crazy backgrounds. I had lost sight of what the original had been, which was a quick joke game where the game changed the rules on you in almost every room.
Space Captain McCallery Episode 1: Crash Landing
Ah, here we are at space captain McCallery. I had, for a while, wanted to make an episodic game series about a guy who, in each episode, lands on a planet, explores, fights monsters, and discovers treasure. In other words, I really wanted to make a cross between Star Trek and a Sci-Fi Pulp series in game form. I think I more or less accomplished that with this series, albeit with more Pulp and less Star Trek in the mix.
The food system in the games, as I mentioned earlier, was a piece of the large idea that spawned By The Torchlight. I’ve been wanting to do a game with a food system like this for a while. Hunger, possible positive effects, possible negative effects including hallucinations, the were all things I had been planning for a while, and I finally had a game they would more-or-less fit into.
The first game was a bit of a test run on the concept, and was thus fairly short and lacked exploration. I put a strong emphasis on creating atmosphere to give the impression that the player is exploring an alien world.
Space Captain McCallery Episode 2: The Weapons Master
If there is any game of mine that I wish more people had played, its this one. This is one game where I feel like I accomplished pretty much everything I set out to do, and even put in all the little touches and secrets I wanted to put in. I made the mistake of trying to sell this game for money at first, which meant not many people ended up playing it, which I think is a real shame.
The focus this time around was on making a world that you could explore. Playing through the game without looking for any of the bonuses, you’re likely to only see about %35 of the world available. Probably very few if any of the people who played this game knew, for example, that it’s possible to get extra health, or what they can do with the “improved grip” ability.
This is also the first time when my good friend Erin Siegel, who recently filled in for art on Extra Credits, helped out with the art for the game. Her enemy designs, especially the dragon boss at the end, helped make this game what it is.
One of the best moments when making this game was when I was putting the first caves together and I suddenly had a moment where I realized I was making the types of games I always wanted to make. My previous games were practicing the craft of game development, and this game was what I finally did with that craft. With the possible exception of Dadaists Gone Wild, this is probably the closest any of my games has come to what I wanted it to be when I set out to make it.
Ninja Art Game
NINJA ART GAME!
Ninja Art Game was made for the Indie Kombat competition. It came in second out of two.
NINJA ART GAME!
Ninja Art Game was a tribute to Godfrey Ho, with a central mechanic in the first level parodying one of my opponent’s games.
NINJA ART GAME!
Ninja Art Game is probably the closes thing to a spiritual successor to Dadaists Gone Wild you’ll see for a while.
NINJA ART GAME!
The art style of the first level would influence the art style I’d go with for Space Captain McCallery Episode 3
NINJA ART GAME!
Space Captain McCallery Episode 3: The Turquoise Temple Part 1
I came into this game with a very specific aesthetic in mind. An idyllic world where turquoise forests ran up against seas of lava and bronze robots roamed. I think this is my most visually successful game. I also upped the resolution and frame rate, which gave the game a much more fluid feel.
The game ran into a few issues that lead to it being cut short and turned into a “Part 1 of 2″. First of all, the failure of Episode 2 to build up a player base drained my motivation. Secondly, part way through work on the game, I packed my bags and spend a semester on board a ship going around the world, on which I got next to no work done. When I got back, I decided to make Episode 2 freeware and break The Turquoise Temple into two parts so that I could start fresh and wouldn’t have to keep working on a game I’d to some extent lost track of in the past few months. Also, I have plans for Part 2 that will be quite extensive, and can thus support having their own episode.
Space Captain McCallery Flash Landing
I made this game to learn Flashpunk. I had tried out a few tutorials, but I knew I wouldn’t get the hang of Flashpunk until I made a full game in it. Because I’m less comfortable in Flashpunk than I am in GameMaker, this was to be a much simpler affair than the other Space Captain McCallery games. I also used it as a chance to make a game structured like old N64 platformers, in that you have to collect items to unlock new areas. I think it turned out fairly well, although it’s very different from the other Space Captain McCallery games, and I kind of wish I had just named it something else and not made it tie in with Space Captain McCallery.
Anyway, I hope that was an interesting read. I think I’ve come quite a long way from Charge the Lasers! and the future is filled with possibilities. So, in conclusion, you should give me money.
I recently released an album of music. It’s kinda folk-rock with T. Rex and Prog Rock influences. The album is over 90 minutes long and is available for $7.99 here: http://www.cdbaby.com/AlbumDetails.aspx?AlbumID=alecstamos (It’s also available on iTunes, but it costs slightly more there)
I recently released a flash re-imagining of Space Captain McCallery Episode 1. The Flash version has more of an action-shooter focus, with mouse-based aiming and shooting.
You can play it here: http://www.kongregate.com/games/malecs2b/space-captain-mccallery-flash-landing
Well, this blog post it a bit late since I released it a couple weeks ago, but you can find the third episode of the Space Captain McCallery series here: http://www.ultimate-nerds.com/space-captain-mccallery-episode-3-the-turquoise-temple-part-1