Here we are again continuing where the last article stopped. Part I gave an overview of my childhood love for games and first steps in game development as a teenager. This time I shall talk about my involvement within the homebrew/opensource scene and my professional growth as an artist at 2D-RP, whilst reflecting on all my good and bad attempts connected to that.
Until late 2007 I spent some time off from game related work and nearly thought about dumping my dreams of becoming a graphics artist. It was at that time I, by pure chance and totally random luck, met up with Philipp. We were both finishing our last years in school, simply hanging out in our free time, playing a lot of games together and realized at both ends, how much the topic resonated with our interests in art and programming.
We developed a deep friendship over time, were both very passionate about our creative working areas and obviously shared the same ridiculous love for games. Realizing that fact it was the most logical consequence to try our hands on some ideas and build up our own playground.
As we both had no background filled up with lots of finished projects and previously had only tried to learn on our own terms, what lay ahead of us was entirely new. Working with a partner as passionate about a project as I was made me feel overly lucky but the fact turned out to be a downer too. Why a downer? Well, because I was dumb.
Efficiency? What the …
The confrontation with a real programmer made it clear to me, that I was at a turning point again. I needed to forget about my clumsy ways of doing art and start from a blank. It was not easy for me to give in, because my false pride kept me from accepting that I had basically learned nothing so far.
I still wanted to be the expert on the subject, feeling good about myself. However most of the technical side to game development was still a riddle to me.
I never gave a thought about screen sizes or resolutions. At 19 years old I was still drawing like a little kid: a lot of colors, gathering all the cool things I could think of at once and putting the whole stuff on enormously big paper sheets while using just the tiny corner on the left.
I wasn’t alone anymore. I had become a teamplayer, who needed to be supportive to the game creating process. So I had to learn about something called “efficiency” and boy was that hard xD
If you want to create art for games you have to get rid of the idea that it’s just about drawing the cool stuff and be done with it.
Artists only create a part of games and they are the once supposed to make it fit, otherwise programmers are really gonna have a hard time to enjoy their involvment. Letting them write trash lines of code to cut out pictures, or scale something to make it fit to other graphics, only means they are doing extra work the artist was too lazy to do. It ruins the source code of the game and creates truly unnerving loading times. Basically it’s like being the asshole, who delays the process and than asking why it takes so long to finish the game.
Looking back at that phase, Philipp honestly had a hard time trying to convince me of the value of otherwise indiscussable facts. I should have given in much sooner. Nonetheless trying to do graphics the impractical old way and realizing things don’t work out as they should, wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
I guess I needed to see myself fail on providing fitting assets, in order for me to really understand what’s wrong with it.
Love at first sight – Dreamcast and Open Handhelds
The first project we managed to complete as a team was another one of those “your favourite tetris clone” entries in computer gaming history.
Until late 2008 we had focused on developing for home computers, because it was the most easy platform to target for two newbies. However, I am a console gamer at heart. Growing up with cartridge based games for the SEGA and Nintendo consoles always made me put a higher value to those. It is an individual, maybe even just a nostalgic feeling, but it was on of the reasons why we wanted to turn our efforts towards console development.
Without having an Xbox 360 and XBLIG just finding it’s way on to the market place, it was out of the question to try our luck there. Furthermore there was some scepticism among us wether we would be a perfect fit to Microsoft’s target group. So we wanted to try and find another way to fullfill our dreamy ideas.
Previous to those thoughts Philipp had already read up on the history of Sega’s Dreamcast and since it was one of the consoles that wasn’t in our collection so far, quickly bought a used model on ebay. When the package arrived within the next week, we joyfully tried out the games and controllers that came with it. After being inspired by our little play time we went on to do some more detailed research and quickly realized the great homebrew community behind it. With each piece of information we became more and more amazed by the idea of developing for it.
Some more random searches for console development led us right to the awesome open handheld community, which was mostly about development for korean gaming devices by GPH and of course the inspiring Open Pandora project.
We were so happy about the new found possibilites and immediatly decided on developing for those platforms. What was concerning us now was how to establish a professional approach to our previously clumsy gaming experiments. Filled up with lots of respect for the mentioned communities we were very serious about the way we should publicly found our team.
Creating a public identity
Being two inexperienced students without a marketing/PR department on our side required us to take on certain tasks ourselves. As graphics artist I was confronted with the fact that I only barely knew how to do pixel art for games and how to draw ugly cartoon/anime doodles on paper but had never done anything different.
I focused only on learning about graphical things I liked, but ignored the other stuff. How was I supposed to create a logo for our puplic presence? Once again I had to change my behaviour and sit down to actually read about logo design, something I never took an interest in and wasn’t all too passionate about.
However, it turned out to be a great way to improve my artistic knowledge in general. I read up on color theory, proportions, positioning and started to differenciate graphical approaches like vector and bitmap illustration. My confrontation with the “lame and boring” part of art, turned out to be a real treasure chest of information.
I started university in 2009 and had some classes related to web design and programming, so naturally I would combine my excersises with 2D-Retroperspectives’ need for an online presence.
So we had a name, a logo and a website. Great for a start, but who cares? Of course nobody until there would be some content to talk about and our stuff properly advertised. We had a small gaming idea in the back of our minds for a while and decided to realize that as a first game project for our newly found console love interests. The whole concept was centered on the introduction of a team mascot like Nintendo’s Mario or Sega’s Sonic.
Jump ‘n Blobs development started in late 2009 and was finished in January 2011. During that year we actively spent our time within the german gp2x forums in search for opinions on our work, whilst also silently working on the dreamcast port. Due to the fact that the members of this community were genrally older and of good knowledge within the hard- and software realms, their opinions were well articulated, helpful and mattered a lot to us. Opening up to a larger audience by also releasing Jump n Blob for Dreamcast made things more interesting and the opions of people became more diverse.
Taking Feedback the right way
When I think about Jump n Blob getting featured in news posts around the world no matter how small the website was that was sharing the information, I have to say I was blown away. There where of course german and austrian pages talking about us, but also english, spanish and french communities discussing the game. Even korean and chinese blogs had articles about us. For an unknown and inexperienced artist sitting on her desktop in germany, drawing average pictures and trying to realize her dreams, that was totally overwhelming.
Of course I took every single comment straight to heart no matter how professional or important the source may have been. I guess that’s the one issue were all creatives struggle, because a finished work is never just a product to them, it is a small piece of mind and soul. Appreciaton and approval of my graphic’s made me feel important, experienced and loved. It is a great source of motivation, but can also lead to an unreasonable and quick work flow just to pump out content and feel appreciated.
Along with the positive attention came the negativ part. There was the average harsh sounding critisim, that is still a valuable source for personal growth and of course the senseless shit talks from random people on the web, simply stating the uglyness of the game, as well as e-mails containing personal attacks. At times I felt so down and aggressive that I wasn’t able to work on anything, just because of a few words I could have ignored. I guess it is importened to value reasonable feedback, getting motivation from euphoric words, whilst not becoming too euphoric oneself, and of course ignore the haters.
That is something I still struggle with today, but with each year of experience my way of reacting to feedback has gotten more professional. It is, and always will be, a very thin line to walk on.
Polishing Products and thinking about the user
At 2012 I had learned how to efficently work in a team, became better at coping with feedback and knew how to finish a game from scratch to final version. My studies for a bachelors degree in media and computer science where also coming to an end and I had to think about an idea for my final project. As I wished to specialize within the field of digital media I had no problem with finding my subject right away.
Of course I wanted to design a game. Preferable for Dreamcast. Sadly the crowd of game enthusiast at my university wasn’t all that big so I already had a hard time being taken serious among all the film and theatre buffs within my year. In fact I was the only one who decided to specialize within games. It would have been even more obscure to realize a project on retro platforms than it was to create a game anyway. Furthermore it is a well known fact, that universities try to be about the modern stuff when it comes to practical lessons so the suggestion was to make a game on XBLIG instead.
At first I wasn’t all to happy about it. I thought I couldn’t come up with a game idea, that would be considered good by the average xbox gamer. In the end I simply decided on something that would be rather easy and fast to implement. A casual party game later known as the rather experimental 2D House of Terror.
After all I only had 3 month for everything. That meant getting to know the target platform, designing the gameplay, coming up with a background story, doing voice overs and sound effects, animating cutscenes, creating the graphics and actually programming the game. Since the project was rather complex, big in size and had a lot of different working areas combined, I was luckyly allowed to get some help with the coding by Philipp who, on top of it all, finished the coding within a week during his final exams.
As we started the “inhouse” testing on our demo builds, we also began submitting the game to peer review on the xna developers forums. There we were confronted with a phenomenon previously unknown to us, called the evil check-list. A collection of guidelines to insure Microsoft’s quality standards regarding user experience, even among the rather free and unpredictable culture of indie games.
I wasn’t passionate about developing for xbox at first, but what I learned from it was to think more about the actual player experience. Getting a game to work is only the first part in development and what is often forgotten in the later process are the small details that actually DO matter. After the rough work is done and you’re exhausted by the project, all that’s left is the wish to get it out there and celebrate another finished product.
Those guidelines required me to do the extra work and showed me how much the end result profits from it. Regarding art I had to insure readable font sizes, make sure game elements are within view among different screen settings, as well as create icons/covers to fit the dashboard and properly advertise the game.
I love the freedom that comes with indie game development, but normally there are no such guidelines to remind you of such stuff. It is importened to remember that besides creative freedom, there still has to be a limiting frame put around your ideas, to form a selling product. Like the golden frame around those pictures you normaly see hanging on museum walls. It’s not that important but it puts even more value to the work.
So thanks XBLIG ;)
Present and future
So it has been 7 years now since we started to create games as 2D-RP, forming a professional image and learning important lessons on our craft. We got two big projects in development and hope to hit commercial quality with the release of those.
Furthermore we want to extend our audience by targeting additional platforms like Ouya and officially establish a company. We are very thankfull for growing up in the extremely kind and helpful environment of homebrew and open source software, so we will always try to give back to those communities regardless how far things get or don’t get.
By writing articles on this blog, we hope to give an insight to our personal struggles, development of our games and hopefully be an example for the line “never give up” that is all too often heard but rarely seen in living examples.
As an artist, I personally try to give back to the community by uploading my “off project” works to places like Open Game Art and even taking on art requests when I got some free time on my hand.
The last thing that is left to say now is: stay tuned for more, comment, share and like!
Thanks for reading :)