Indie games have soared in popularity in recent years thanks to new routes to the market, such as IndieGogo, Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, amongst others.
V3 was at games expo GEEK recently, (where we saw Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy being 3D printed, amongst other things) and spoke to several indie game developers about what brought them to game development and how they create their games.
In the first of this series, we speak to FireTwin Games, whose first release, Chameleon Swing, is in beta release on Android, and coming soon to iOS.
In the game, the player controls a chameleon, who swings between trees tarzan-like, but using its tongue instead of conveniently-placed vines. Developer Jack Soulie explained that the idea came from enjoying the 'ninja rope' ability in multiplayer annelid destruction-fest Worms.
CTG: What made you want to start making your own game?
FireTwin: I've always been curious about making games, but as a kid, nobody really talked about it. I assumed it was some sort of mystical witchcraft, which only a handful of geniuses could do.
It wasn't until a few years ago that I realised I could channel my crazy love addiction to games in a productive way. I had my first taste of programming when I did a module in C at uni and I took to it like a duck to water! It was only after watching Indie Game the Movie that I realised you don't need massive teams of people to make a game, and that you can do it with just one or two.
You started with Scratch, then moved on to an online course. Could you expand on those experiences and explain what they taught you?
After setting in my mind the goal of making games, I quickly found out that even though I had a taster in coding, I had no idea what I was doing or where I could start!
Fortunately, I remember a friend talking about a new Computer Science course he was taking online. It was called CS50x, and it was being taught by none other than Harvard itself! Not only that, but it was free (and it still is free, you can take it at edx.org). This course helped me learn all the fundamentals of programming and the problem solving that it requires. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to make games or do coding in general. It was probably the best education I've had in my life, and it was all done virtually.
Scratch was the first tool we used to learn programming in CS50, which may raise eyebrows as many children now use Scratch at school for "basic" coding. In actual fact, the reality is that Scratch has all the tools you need to start coding and make a simple game. Once you've learnt how to code in Scratch, there's only a small leap between that and the coding languages that professionals use today.
If you want you can take a look and even play around with the code of my first game, Lost At Sea (made in Scratch).
Chameleon Swing is made with GameMaker. Are there any other tools/skills you need outside of that package? Does knowledge of other coding languages help?
Unity is the most popular game development tool at the moment, but it is a 3D engine and definitely requires some previous experience in programming. If you only want to make a 2D game though, GameMaker is great for getting started. It has "drag and drop" features that are very similar to Scratch and includes tutorials that will help you get to grips with it. Also, they have recently released GameMaker 2, which is supposed to be even easier to use.
If you exclusively use the "drag and drop" features of GameMaker then you don't really need any other skills except for some patience and determination. And be warned, there will be a lot of trial and error at the start!
If you want to make more advanced games then you need to start writing code. For this you only need to know the basics (if, else, and for loops) and a simple understanding of algebra ( 1 + x = 3 find x). It certainly helps to be good at Maths and have a strong foundation in Computer Science, but in no way are they necessary to get started!
What would you advise other aspiring games developers - what skills should they focus on, and what are the pitfalls they should avoid?
I would say that if you are still in school and a kid shouts out, "How is all this weird Maths going to help me later?". Let them know it'll help make video games!
Secondly, don't see game development as mind-boggling wizardry like I did. Anybody of any age can start making games right now, the only hurdle is our minds: most things seem harder than they actually are. Just like writing a big essay, it's always scary at the beginning, but once you get started it's not so bad.
What's the secret behind making a great game?
Well that's the answer everybody wants to know - including me!
I don't think anybody can say that one quality will make a game great. What I think makes Chameleon Swing fun, though, is that it does what it says on the tin very well. What I'm talking about is the main tongue-swinging ability: it's a complicated physics mechanic that takes a lot of mastery, yet all that power is controlled simply by a touch of your finger.
I think a lot of games empower the player as we do, but forget to include mastery into the mix. If there's no depth to a mechanic then it gets pretty boring pretty fast.
What's next for FireTwin after Chameleon Swing?
I really want to do a Chameleon Swing 2! We've noticed that the kids have really taken to the characters in the game, so we'd love to take it a step further and make another one that includes more of the story and background behind the characters.
Don't forget to check out the Chameleon Swing Beta on the Google Play Store. Coming to iPad and iPhones soon.
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