Tales from Development: Deadly 30

Deadly 30I wanted to write on this subject for some time now, actually ever since the game was released a year ago (got to love my timings). What I want to do in this article is to break up the game and it’s process. The mistakes that were made during development, how the game lost it’s real direction, the importance of communication in a team, and a bit about publishing the game.

As we go I’ll also post a few simple lessons that I learned from my mistakes.

The Beginning

Everything began with a discussion with Gonzossm – a popular animator from youtube, a really good friend of mine, and the future artist/animator of Deadly30. We had never worked on a game together prior to this, but the eagerly awaited event was right on the doorstep. The idea we had in mind is to make a simple flash game, playing as a character surviving in the wild that would involve tower defense elements and exploration for resources.

Credits

We thought the idea was interesting and unique, which would probably take us less than a month to make and get us some quick cash from a sponsorship and licensing from flash game sites. Plus we had nothing better to work on anyway.

Trying To Design

The first design was actually based on a completely different theme from the final. You would play as a king who builds up his castle with resources he finds outside, to defend from crazy animals at night.

I don’t really remember exactly how we went from that, to shooting zombies with guns. But I remember we liked the idea of having special kinds of character classes for different tasks, think of TeamFortress2.

  • Assault – The one with powerful firepower.
  • Engineer – A mechanic who builds turrets and repairs walls.
  • Medic – This one is obvious. Hint “healing”.

Not long into design, it showed that it would be impossible to play the game if one of the classes wasn’t around at all times. So we instead mixed the abilities and went only with a weapon class system.

  • American – Uses automatic machine guns.
  • Russian – Uses long range and sniper rifles.
  • German – Shotguns, can’t miss these in a zombie apocalypse.

Deadly 30 First Sketch

The problem with the design is that that’s all it was – Three characters that utilize different weapons, who upgrade and defend their base at night from evil zombies, and go out searching for resources when the day comes, oh and make it last 30 nights!

At the moment it seemed fine, what more did we need to know? Well how about the huge amount of technical details that were completely overlooked. Our “design” sounds more like a scenario from an action movie.

For Example:

  • Controls? What moves can the player execute?
  • Any distinct enemy types? cool mechanics?
  • How do enemies spawn? Different for night & day?
  • How long does a night & day last?
  • How far can you explore? Any limits? Endless repeating background?
  • What resources can you find? What can you do with them?
  • What weapons and tools do we have? Are they all interesting?
  • Do we have enough progressive content to last 1 – 30 nights?
  • How about balance? and strategy?
  • And a million more things!

We blindly began working on the game from a simple concept, as if we knew exactly what we were doing.

I strongly feel this was a prime factor that crippled the whole game. We began noticing huge design flaws half way in the game. Good example would be at the moment in development where zombies were all kind of.. the same and plain boring, walking and attacking with their hands.

This is when we decided to add *drumroll* a crow! A pathetic attempt at trying to add a new gimmicky gameplay element, with different movement and attack.

Adding it to a system that was designed only for walk-able enemies caused tons of bugs. Turrets and AI companions were terrible at dealing with something that wasn’t on the ground. The attack of a crow was pointless too, once it got close to a survivor it died by getting slashed, doing no damage.

This was only one of the problems when adding a new feature in the middle of the game to a system that doesn’t support it. If only we had invested some time into thinking about technical design it would have paid off immensely.

 

Lesson 1. Games are much cheaper to make on paper.

 

I should however note that you can’t design a complete game from the start. You will get interesting ideas as you go along, sometimes it works, and other times it’s like a dead end in a labyrinth. Which will cost you dearly once you decide to turn around.

Let’s Get To Work

The first few weeks of work kept a steady progress. One thing I really liked is how Gonzossm presented the artwork to me. It was a bunch of simple sketches that quickly gave the feel for what the game might be. It also allowed us to make any graphical changes with out sacrificing a lot of hours as it would if the artwork was finalized.

The code was in ActionScript 3.0 with decent object oriented principles. I spent no time thinking about a game architecture and got right into the code (Again a poor decision).

Before and After

1. Clashes in Development

When you have two people working together on a single game – an Artist, and a Programmer. I think it’s important to have both members doing game specific elements.

For example:

  • How much health do green zombies have?
  • How many zombies do we spawn at night 8?
  • How much scrap metal can you find each day?
  • Properties / Statistics / Balance etc..

This was not the case with Deadly30. I did blame Gonzossm for it, as if his thinking was “I’m an artist I do art and animations for the game, Iggy is a programmer, he will deal with all the numbers”.

But I come to realize that infact it was my mistake as a programmer who failed to give the right tools to the team. Game scripting is what I’m hinting at, which would allow anyone to edit simple text files that store properties for game elements with no need to recompile the game. Deadly30 had no scripting. Everything was hard coded, only for my eyes, yet I was angry at Gonzossm for leaving me on my own in this area.

The final game turned out to be coded and balanced all the way by me, with some feedback from a few testers. Gonzossm took care of the aesthetics – art, animations, cutscenes, he also licensed music and voice actors. Which was great, I couldn’t have done better, however I strongly feel we did a poor job working as a team.

 

Lesson 2. Work closely with your team members.

 

2. Hopeless Hope

Few weeks into the project you have your player running around, shooting zombies and repairing the fences. You think to yourself “Yeah this game is definitely going to get done by the end of the month”! And right after that think, “Oh why don’t we add this feature, it would make the game so much better”!

Well that’s pretty much how the entire development process went on until the end. Lack of direction but a constant stream of new ideas on the go. My list wasn’t getting any smaller, and I could not predict the next thing to expect on it. This was very bad, because how can you design a system for something like that? You’ll have buggy code, or end up spending hours rewriting it again.

Worst of all it feels like this hell is never going to end. The problem here is you never estimated how long the game would take you, because quite honestly you couldn’t have, not with the sort of design we had. A month seemed reasonable back then, which at the end turned into 7 months.

3. The Hellish Phase

I think most game developers can relate to me here. Yes! That moment when you’ve been working on the game for longer than you should have. You start to HATE everything about your game, it just seems plain stupid and boring. Why are you working on this? The code is a mess, the design is flawed, the best thing that comes to mind is to start a new project. Start with clean design and clean code, that’s a very strong temptation!

Deadly 30 Classes

I think after the first month of working on the game that’s when I felt it. It’s very demoralizing when you can’t trust your own deadlines anymore.

I have to say that the hardest part of making Deadly30 was this hellish phase of development. I almost gave up a couple times. What got me through is the support of the people who believed in the potential of the game.

The only thing I can recommend in this case is keep yourself motivated. Work on the things that you enjoy, work fast and keep a steady progress.

 

Lesson 3. Progress is a powerful ingredient to motivation.

 

4. Unexpected Surprises

If you started out to make a simple flash game, then do that and just! We didn’t and it bit us.

We chose Flash because it’s easy to use and a great platform for simple lightweight games. But once we turned our small game into a big game, this was a bottleneck we found ourselves stuck in. Something of Deadly30’s size and requirements really pushes the border of Flash. All graphics were stored inside “Movieclips” as vector graphics which are rendered using CPU (I can’t stress it enough how slow this is). This problem is tightly related to design and careful planning for your exact needs.

Deadly 30 Movieclips

Another thing is that we used a non-standard resolution (750 x 460) because it doesn’t matter as much for games you play on the web. Imagine the surprise on my face when I figured we had to be able to run the game in full-screen.

The biggest question people are still asking is “Why isn’t this game multiplayer?”. Because quite frankly this game looks like the kind of game you would play with your friends online. Unfortunately this was another case of poor planning and another one of those things we couldn’t foresee in the beginning. In hindsight we were limited by the capabilities of Flash, something we should have looked into earlier.

Publisher / STEAM / Greenlight

When the game was nearing completion, or rather a state it was mostly playable, it was looking a lot better than something you would play on web portals.

Games like VVVVV and Binding of Isaac were both made in Flash and had success on Steam. This is when we decided to try our luck with getting Deadly30 on Steam.

Deadly 30 Publishing

Gonzossm and I put together a little trailer for the game to raise publicity for the game, in hopes get good feedback from the community and be able to show it to Steam.

Gonzossm is very popular on youtube, so we used that to our advantage with the trailer. After around 120,000 views and lots of amazing comments on the trailer, we sent out the application to Steam, to which they never replied. Not even mentioning any reasons why this might not be a game for their platform. I understand they are big and probably have too many applications to go through each day, but I felt it was very unprofessional. Like an option to answer or ignore an incoming call there should be a reject button, so people wouldn’t be waiting for many months in hopes.

Not long after that Gonzossm received an inbox message on youtube from a publisher by the name of Headup Games, they were very interested in publishing the game. They were so sure the game would get on Steam, as if they knew someone on the inside. I personally thought that was a great catch, maybe that’s how all games get on Steam in the first place? I wouldn’t know. I’ve never dealt with retail publishers before, all this was completely new to me.

So they asked us for a 50% cut of the profit. I spoke with Gonzossm and a few friends about it, and it seemed like a reasonable cut. “They get us in, we both make a lot of money!” So we agreed on it, signed a contract and got to work.

Many months in and the publisher had no luck in getting the game on Steam either, what a shame. Now we were pretty much self selling the game on Gonzossm’s advertising power. The only people buying the game were his fans from youtube and facebook, and we were giving away 50% profits for what exactly?

Now I’m not saying the publisher didn’t do anything at all. They spread the product to sites like Amazon, Desura, Gamersgate. They also got many review websites to write about Deadly30. It’s important I just don’t think it’s worth fifty percent.

Also many thanks to everyone for buying the game, it keeps me independent for the time. In total I believe the game sold over £10,000+. Not very sure of this though because all the sales information goes straight to the publisher, I only get my cut later. I have no control, no stats, and this is very bad.

There are serious costs to pay when you surrender control. There is a time and place for publishers, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be self publishing my next game.

 

Lesson 4. Do it your self first.

 

As far as Greenlight goes, Deadly30 is still on there, go ahead and check it out. I’m not really sure how far it’s from being greenlit. Judging by some other games that have a better exposure and still aren’t greenlit, I would say FAR.

Final Words

Deadly 30 Ending

Sometimes when I look back at this game the word “failure” pops up. Probably because there were more mistakes made in development than there should have been. Still, regardless of the faults, this is the biggest game I’ve made, and I’m proud of it.

It was a very expensive learning experience to me personally, I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Thanks for reading – Iggy Zuk.

18 Thoughts on “Tales from Development: Deadly 30

  1. Interesting read. You have plans for future games and stuff?

    • Iggy on 15 March 2013 at 01:56 said:

      Yeah man, want to stay away from Flash, been working with some C++ and OpenGL. No solid plans for a game yet, taking my time to get familiar with the tools.

      • Aaron Cowie on 16 March 2013 at 03:41 said:

        Hey man, it’s been ages!
        Btw, are u looking into HTML5/JS for game dev?
        The game frameworks are starting to get pretty good by the looks of it.

        • Iggy on 16 March 2013 at 11:06 said:

          Ages indeed, Hey man!
          I’m not sure about HTML5, honestly I have not tried it yet.
          Started doing a bit of WebGL with THREE.js, it’s a fun little library to learn from.
          I don’t know about large size browser games though, would they sell well? Hence my direction to C++ with OpenGL.
          What have you been doing all this time, got a blog maybe?

  2. Really interesting post. I haven’t played the game, but the trailer looks great.

  3. “The final game turned out to be coded and balanced all the way by me, with some feedback from a few testers. Gonzossm took care of the aesthetics – art, animations, cutscenes, he also licensed music and voice actors. Which was great, I couldn’t have done better, however I strongly feel we did a poor job working as a team.”

    I don’t know either of you, but I have to disagree with you here. It sounds like he did his part as the artist. Scripting and balancing the game is not usually the artist’s domain. By licensing voice and music as well, I’d say he did an awful lot really.

    • Iggy on 16 March 2013 at 10:47 said:

      He did what he could at the time, but cutscenes, voice or music isn’t really all that important, it’s not really hard work, neither is it crunching or getting the game closer to the finish line. These effects can be done at the very end.

      Like I mentioned already, I acknowledge my mistake with not having the right tools and editors for the team to make my work less painful.

      Finally it took me more than 3 times the amount of work to Gonzossm’s, 2 months compared to 7, most of which were working alone, adding features, bug testing, balancing, and praying I don’t give up.

      If you’ve made a single game, it wouldn’t be a surprise to you how much goes in it beneath the visual layer.

  4. Congrats, by the way, on releasing the game! You did it, you pushed through, you learned from some mistakes, and it sounds like you made a bit of profit to boot. All in all, quite a success.

    Congrats to the both of you.

  5. A Cicada on 19 July 2013 at 14:53 said:

    I just finished playing this and eagerly looked for more information, and – having enjoyed the game thoroughly – arrived here. Though I’m not surprised at how hard the development process was (if publishing games is anything like publishing books… Well, I think I empathize with your pain) I am a little sad it was so fractituous. I hope the two of you are still friends, and not completely opposed to continued projects.

    For me, the game was fantastic. Though the concept was simple, it was executed very well, the balance was better than many games, and it continued to have me on the edge of my feet throughout. The art caught my eye; the way that enemies grew stronger and the feeling of reward that came with the defense and upgrading portions of the game made me actually feel like I was accomplishing something, even as I dreaded the fate of the three survivors. I liked the themes, the game progression, the voice acting – I liked everything. It felt great.

    And then I reached the ending, and it felt awesome. That combination of character satisfaction (ah, they did it!) and player satisfaction (wahaha! TASTE MISSILE) was fantastic. So please know, that even if it was expensive and stressful – at least one person randomly on the internet felt it was so, and that your development post-script was equally interesting. Thank you for the hard work and the retrospective. : )

    • Damn, wordpress has so much spam…
      So today I was filtering though and found your comment. The way you describe your emotions towards the game, that is just amazing and it makes my heart feel very warm inside.
      And I agree with you, as much stress there is in making games, it’s also very rewarding. I hope to make more games that evoke real feelings. Many thanks random person on the internets, you made my day!

  6. Fire Nendodroid on 10 November 2013 at 18:09 said:

    Sorry for not buying it, i used crack to play your game(i’m currently unemployed). my pc is too old for l4d or zombie games, so i really enjoy it. This game is so much fun, but sometimes lag problem cost my character’s life.
    I look forward to your new titles.*clap clap*

  7. Kristian Jensen on 3 June 2014 at 16:41 said:

    Hi,

    Just popping into your site after having tried finding a solution for the “lag issue” on my system setup and stumbled upon your log here – and found it really interesting. =)

    My initial reaction to the game not working that well on my system was first a bit of rage and I was thinking about leaving a scathing comment somewhere on Steam, but I figured I’d check for solutions first before doing anything that’d make me look stupid. =]

    Instead of finding a solution, I found this gem of an article.

    I really like the honesty and the whole description of the process and it also gives an idea of just how big a project this was for you guys – and also why it probably didn’t live up to your expectations (or your customers’ but hey, whaddya’ gonna’ do?).

    While using Flash as a game engine for this project was a pretty bad idea, the concept and artwork themselves are pretty solid, though some tweaks to the tone of the game might (like turning down the overtly silly elements a bit and make them a bit more tongue-in-cheek or subtle) probably would leave a more solid impression on the user.

    The parts of the game I’ve so far managed to play through were pretty fun, and at some point I think it could be interesting to see a “redux” version done in a “real” game engine. I think something like XNA or maybe even a pseudo 3D version in Unity (you can do flat graphics in unity despite it being an inherently 3D-centric engine) could be the way to go.

    Anyway, why I’m still a little annoyed that the product I bought doesn’t work that well on my system, I at least want to give you guys a thumbs on effort – game development is not easy (been working a bit in Flash and Unity myself) and making something look this good as an indie team of only few guys is still something to be proud of.

  8. Ross on 18 March 2015 at 14:55 said:

    Hi Iggy, just wondering if you plan on making games with Gonzossm in the future? Its just you both made such an awesome game both aesthetically and physically

  9. Randy on 24 June 2016 at 14:20 said:

    Will there will be a sequel to the game or will the series will be continued or alterd in any way.

    • Iggy on 10 July 2016 at 19:04 said:

      It was a nice run, but I really don’t think we’ll work on another Deadly XX, there’s just so many other types of games that are more interesting to work on.
      Though, you know.. I have been thinking of prototyping a similar kind of 2D base defending game with multiplayer included, as I now have much more experience with networking, but who knows if I’ll ever find the time for that.

  10. Paul Buckley on 1 December 2016 at 18:11 said:

    Interested in making a sequel or at least in spirit? I have funding and potential publisher. Let me know!

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