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Indie Game Maker Contest: Rules and Dates


Iggy, Mistress of Ceremonies, here with head judge Nick Palmer! To thank you for Iggy’s new name ^w^, Iggy is going to tell you a little about the Contest this year! You have one month to make your game, between July 7th and August 7th, 2015, SO CLEAR YOUR CALENDARS, Iggy’s precious indie dev buddies. Now to hand it off to Nick for all the complicated stuff!

Thanks, Iggy! All entries will be judged based on 3 Criteria on a scale of 0-20:

How your game presents itself from a non-mechanic perspective. Things included in this will include writing, art, story, music. This will focus mostly on things that the player does not directly interact with.

Iggy likes pretty art and music! Especially cute things like Iggy! But Iggy isn’t a judge, so non-cute things will work too >w>

How your game plays. This will include the mechanics of your game, and all other interactions the player can directly have with the game. This can include some aspects of story and plot, if the player has a way to control the way it progresses.

Challenging games are Iggy’s favorite. That way, Iggy can always be getting better!

How well does your game grip the player. This will cover a lot of the intangibles of the game. How does it all fit together. How interested are we in continuing to the end. This could be from a fun factor, or just because the game is very engrossing in some other way.

Some games are like potato chips! Except they don’t make Iggy’s stomach hurt when Iggy eats too many! uwu

There will also be a few other ways your score can be affected:

Each minor glitch or bug that has no appreciable effect on the presentation or gameplay will not effect your score. A major glitch, which causes a noticeable negative effect on the game will result in a -5. If a game has a glitch or bug that results in the game being unplayable within the first 10 minutes of gameplay, the game will be disqualified completely. If it occurs after the 10 minute mark, the game will be judged based on what they played, with a -10 penalty to overall score.

Don’t let your game be marked down for simple mistakes, that would be a disaster! ;w;

The Twist!
The twist will not be announced until July 7th, 2015. Adherence to the twist can earn you between 0 and 10 bonus points to your total score.

These bonus points could make or break your game! Don’t ignore the twist! OwO

And on to the rules! Breaking these rules can result in penalties or disqualifications, at the discretion of our judging panel. Make sure to read them carefully! (Rules are not in final form. Rules may be altered at any time before July 7th, either to clarify or adjust the requirements)

Wow, so much to read, but make sure you get it all down!

  1. Games must be complete, started no earlier than July 7th, 2015 at 6:00PM UTC, and created by you (unless you have permission to post the game). No exceptions!
  2. Games Length: Judges will only be required to judge a game for 1 hour if it passes the screening stage. As such, any game over 1 hour will only be judged on its first hour of play.
  3. You must have the right to use all assets, tools, and anything else involved in the creation of the game, such as the engine/software, visual resources, music, and so forth. Pre-existing assets not created specifically for the contest entry are allowed as long as the actual game was not started before July 7th, 2015 at 12:00am UTC. Please note that some resource creators will consider your game to be commercial due to the inclusion of prizes, so make sure you ask permission if you are uncertain!
  4. Games must be finished and submitted by Aug 7th, 2015 11:59PM UTC. No extensions will be given. We recommend uploading a day in advance to avoid any unfortunate accidents or difficulties.
  5. There is no limit on team size; you can work alone, or with a large team. Teams will have to split the prizes between themselves as they see fit. The IGMC team will NOT be responsible for the splitting of prizes. We will award only to the person who submitted the game.
  6. Each person may be directly involved in up to two submissions. This allows you to, among other things, work on a team while making your own solo project. If a team uses your resources but you did not actually work on the development of a game, then it won’t count towards your two game limit. If you are ONLY doing commissions for a submission, you are not considered part of the team for these rules. Do remember that all commissions will be required to be made within the July 7th-August 7th timeline.
  7. All files required to play the game must be included in the download. This includes graphics, music files, read-mes, and so forth.
  8. No 18+ content: games with pornographic/extreme violence will be disqualified. These games should be playable by teenagers. If you are unsure if your content qualifies as adult-only, it’s best to leave it out or ask our support team.
  9. Plagiarism, copying the work of other contestants, and other forms of cheating are forbidden. Viruses, etc. will disqualify a game instantly. Let’s make this a clean and fair competition for everyone!
  10. Everyone involved in a project should be credited unless they consent otherwise. This includes the creators of resources (graphics, music, scripts, etc.)!
  11. The game must be made in an actual game engine, and not a map editor/mod of an existing game. Rom hacks and games that run on emulators are not allowed.
  12. Games must be submitted via this platform and have an active download available. If the game is browser-based, a link to the game must be provided. Games may NOT be updated once the deadline has been reached (Aug 7, 2015 11:59PM UTC).
  13. Games must be in English. You are welcome to have translations in any language you see fit, but the entry submitted to judges must be in English.
  14. Games must be playable on Windows (at least in compatibility mode for Windows XP, Vista, or 7).
  15. Winners who do not want their prize can request that it be given to the person/team with the next highest score.
  16. The judges and contest hosts reserve the right to disqualify or ban any game or person for reasons including but not limited to the violation of these rules. Judges’ decisions are final. Judges and contest runners reserve the right to add to these rules for clarification purposes.
  17. Restrictions on age and nationality are subject to the contestant’s local, state, and/or national laws. No purchase necessary. Must be at least 13 years of age or older to register and submit entries, subject to the submitter’s local laws.
  18. Prizes will be delivered electronically via the e-mail address associated with the user who submitted the game on this platform. Winners will be responsible for all taxes and fees associated with their prize package.

Creators retain all rights to their respective works. The contest runners (Degica) reserve the right to promote the game on the appropriate websites, blogs, social media, etc. as outlined in the prize packages.

The judges will do their best to enforce the rules, but bear no responsibility for any entries that violate the rules against their knowledge.

Any questions for Iggy or Nick? Any rules you don’t understand, or clarifications you would like made? Ask in the comments section below!


Learn Your Craft Before You Go Commercial

It’s never been easier to make your own game. However, ease is no substitute for experience. As young aspiring designers grow up seeing the rapid growth of indie games, I feel like I see more and more of them with dollar signs in their eyes wanting to hurry up and get a game on the market while missing an important part of the process – the part where you get good at it.

When I first starting messing around on RPG Maker fifteen years ago, there was no indie game scene. The idea of selling the stuff I was making was absurd. Not to mention the fact that my first game was hardly a masterpiece and if I were to put it up on Steam Greenlight today, I’d be laughed off the site in minutes. By the time it became possible for me to work on something commercial, I had over a dozen years of game development experience under my belt. Even then, I was still nervous. Now I browse game-making forums and find people announcing their intent to create and sell a game only to find out quickly that they don’t know a whole lot about the nuts and bolts of the whole process.

I know, I’m old. Things have changed. But completing a quality game and getting it on the market is challenging and it takes experience to be able to meet the challenge successfully. Here are some specific examples.

Unprepared Kickstarters will die quicker than Sean Bean in a movie.

  • Funding: Money is always a tough issue for someone making their first commercial game. Even for a short, small-scale project, you would be surprised at how fast the cost adds up. Sometimes people just assume that they’ll run a successful Kickstarter to take care of that problem. Not that easy. People are much more skeptical of Kickstarter now than they were a few years ago. That doesn’t mean you can’t pull it off, but you really have to impress potential donors and one way to do that is to demonstrate your experience.
  • Collaborators: Some people are multi-talented enough to make a game from scratch on their own. I envy those people. But I think most people are more like me – good at some things, need help in others. It’s much easier to get people to join you if you have some previously completed work to show off. It gives them an idea of what you’re capable of and also inspires confidence that you’ll see the project through and it won’t become “vaporware.”
  • Skill: Writing, art, coding, game design, all of that stuff is hard to do well immediately. It takes practice and lots of it. Your first game is not going to be very good. Mine wasn’t. But what was important was how much I learned from the process of completing it. I never released it to the public (much harder to do in those days) but it was still a highly worthwhile effort. The indie game market is ruthless and it’s not worth putting yourself out there when you don’t have experience working in your favor.

My intent with this piece is not to discourage anyone. In fact, I’m hoping to save some of you guys from the huge discouragement of a disastrous commercial game launch. I’ve seen people go through it, it’s not pretty.

Like I said at the beginning, there are more tools out there than ever to make your own game. Take the time to get good at them. It will pay off.


Ease of Use Features

I’m going to take a moment to write a bit of a rant on features in game design.

Not like “Crafting system” type features. Like UI, interface, that kind of jazz. Because a lot of indie devs need to understand something: All genres have at default, certain ease of use features that everyone expects, and for every one of those you don’t have, you will pay.

If you make a platformer for the PC, you better make sure you can use a controller with it. If you make a shmup game, you need it to support rotated screens (I actually didn’t know this one until recently). If you make an RPG for phones/tablets, you better make sure the menu works with the touch screen and not having to press up and down on like a geriatric d-pad.

I'll tell you right now, the Dragon Quest games on iOS/Android or the Gold Standard for how to adapt RPG gameplay to touchscreen devices.

I’ll tell you right now, the Dragon Quest games on iOS/Android or the Gold Standard for how to adapt RPG gameplay to touchscreen devices.

And I know what some people are going to say:

“But that is a lot of work!” No one cares. Doing less than the default is a sin. Yes, I know that everyone has only limited time, but if you don’t want to put in the work to even hit AVERAGE on the features of your game, you are just a lazy dev.

“The engine I’m using doesn’t easily support X!” No one cares. The end user doesn’t care or in most cases know what engine you are using, and they shouldn’t have to. The engine limitations are your problem to learn to get around, not the person playing the game.

“But my game is so good, it can get around small issues like these.” No one cares. It doesn’t matter how good your game is, if it doesn’t meet the minimum of ease of use, most people are going to just shut it off.

Don't be the guy who made a point and click game with no mouse support.

Don’t be the guy who made a point and click game with no mouse support.

It is not up to the player to make up for your mistakes. You have to meet the minimum ease of use features for the genre you are working in, and you need to research what that is. It could be things like controller, mouse, touchscreen support, or quicksave or autosort functions in menus. It just depends on the game and the genre. But the default is always there, and YOU need to meet it.

Have you ever played a game that just failed on this basic level? What did you do with it? Did you keep playing? I didn’t think so.

So what is the minimum ease of use for the genre you are working on? Do you meet that? What are you going to do to fix it if you don’t? Join the conversation in the comments section below!


steam refund policy

This week, Steam publicly rolled out their new Steam Refunds Policy. As a developer, I was emailed about the night before. The moment I read it, I felt a knot in my stomach twist.

“Valve will, upon request via help.steampowered.com, issue a refund for any reason, if the request is made within fourteen days of purchase, and the title has been played for less than two hours. There are more details below, but even if you fall outside of the refund rules we’ve described, you can ask for a refund anyway and we’ll take a look.”

The 14-days, < 2 hours, no questions asked could spell death for short games on Steam — especially indies. Labyrinthine Dreams takes on average around 1-1.5 hours to complete. That means a player could purchase the game, complete it within 14-days and then refund their money completely. It seems like it would have been smarter to make it a percentage based on estimated gameplay time instead of a flat amount to avoid putting smaller games in such a precarious position.

My game isn’t the only one affected either. Many developers on Steamworks also voiced their concern. One of the top threads right now is “New Refund Policy = Death to short games?” where developers of shorter titles share their concerns for abuse. One post includes a list of games that could be adversely affected.

With the huge influx in titles on Steam, especially indies, it makes sense Valve would want to automate the process as much as possible. The “No Refund” policy they had before isn’t exactly great customer service, although Valve admits they’ve granted several refunds in the past.

There are many legitimate reasons to return a game:

  • Game doesn’t run or meet hardware requirements on your computer
  • Game purchased by mistake
  • Game did not play as advertised
  • You played the game for 30 minutes and didn’t like it

broken gameI’ve been burned by Steam games before too. Broken games on release have become more common and I’m sure Valve’s customer service is flooded with requests when major releases ship with broken builds. I’ve also bought games that I was initially interested in but turned out not liking 20-30 minutes in.

That said, I believe it’s the consumer’s responsibility to do a little research before making a purchase. I never buy a game on Steam anymore without first looking at customer reviews. I find these much more useful than press reviews since they are from the consumer which means this person actually spent their money on the game. Useful reviews quickly get voted to the top and it doesn’t take long to determine whether a game is broken or bad just by looking at the score aggregate. This system seemed like a good way for the Steam Community to police itself by calling developers out on their BS when they didn’t deliver what was advertised. But I guess accountability isn’t something Valve thinks Steam users should have.

The Refund Policy also extends to DLC which brings up even more questions. What stops players from buying a soundtrack DLC, pulling the tracks out and then refunding it? They’d still have the digital copies as there is no DRM built in to most of those. Valve is putting it on the developers now to protect their content if this is the case.

I can already see a lot of room for abuse with this policy: masking gameplay times, getting trading card drops, playing games outside of Steam, etc..

I’d like to think Valve thought this through but the policy doesn’t indicate that. For now, I plan on monitoring sales and seeing how many returns show up each month. I’m hoping it’s one of those things that just exists to make customers feel better about purchases but in practice is rarely used.

What do you think about the Steam Refund Policy? Is it bad for indie developers/developers of short games? Does it leave too much room for exploitation?

Sound off in the comments!

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Game Dev on Film

Video games have gotten a good deal of attention from documentary filmmakers in recent years, ranging from the excellent The King of Kong, a hilarious look at the subculture of cutthroat classic arcade competition, to the not so excellent Video Games: The Movie, a recap of the medium’s history with no discernible purpose. However, for the purposes of this site and our readers, I’ll be focusing on films that chronicle the world we know well – small-scale indie game development.

Indie Game: The Movie quickly earned itself a soft spot in the hearts of gamers with its detailed look at three huge indie hits – Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez. The first of these was already released at the time the filmmakers interviewed its developer, Jonathan Blow, but the men behind the other two were still working on the game during the time period covered by the film. Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes finish and release Super Meat Boy before the film ends, while Phil Fish sorts out some legal issues with Fez but still had more work to do before it sees an official release.

The movie takes several gaming personalities that ultimately became well-known to the game dev community for their eccentricities (Fish in particular) and shows them to be human beings just like the rest of us. The filmmakers are very kind to their subjects and to the medium as a whole.

I wish my controller had a death button…

Full disclosure about this one: I attended a very early screening at this year’s PAX East and even met the directors. I’m not here to shill for it, although I did like it pretty well. Whereas IG: TM focused on the hard work involved with the creation of smaller games, the kickstarted Gameloading is more interested in the philosophy and emotions that motivate people to follow this path.

The film follows about a dozen developers, many of whom are working on games that present major challenges to the popular conception of what a “game” really means. The ample cast includes The Stanley Parable developers Davey Wreden and William Pugh along with the always controversial Zoe Quinn of Depression Quest. But don’t worry, she only talks for a few minutes about the constant online harassment she receives. This is not a GamerGate documentary, although that one is on the way and it’s not going to be pretty when it comes out. It’s already been nuked on imdb despite not being released, which is actually quite a good metaphor for GamerGate in general.

If I have one complaint about both of these movies, it’s that all the projects they focus on inevitably go on to win major acclaim and/or commercial success, an outcome that’s becoming increasingly rare in the crowded market of indie games. It reminds me of the old adage “history is written by the winners,” but whoever said that wasn’t living in such an exceptional age of documentary cinema. I think it’s reasonable to expect more and I would enjoy a documentary that painted a larger picture.

What do you guys think? Have you seen these films? Are there other ones that I’ve missed? What would you like to see in a documentary about game development? Let’s talk it over in the comments!


Video Games and Human Drama

If you read a lot of game commentary, you’ve probably noticed that story in games is being taken a lot more seriously these days. I can remember when the entire point of a game review was to tell players if it was “fun” or not. And while that is still a consideration, storytelling in games has evolved to the point where it merits more detailed exploration.

If you think about it, the way games have evolved is pretty uncharted territory when it comes to entertainment. With movies, emotion and story were important from the very beginning. Before spoken dialogue could be heard in a film, its creators relied upon the facial expressions and physical gestures of actors to connect with the audience. But with games, story wasn’t the first concern in the early days, it was just the opposite. This was an interactive medium and so the focus on was how players interacted with the game.

Ninja Gaiden is typically cited as the first game to have true cutscenes. While they attempt to evoke some emotion, the actual story and dialogue are pretty goofy…in a fun way. However, the aesthetic is still charming and this was indeed an important moment in game history. As the scope of games increased, so did the storytelling potential. Now with the indie game explosion of the last decade, we have a cultural dynamic incredibly similar to modern movies, where passionate indie works are contrasted with huge corporate blockbusters. Having a small group of developers (or sometimes just one) working on a game creates the possibility of personal stories on a level that didn’t really exist before.

There had better be ammo hidden behind that picture!

While certainly a good thing for the medium, it’s also drawn some backlash. I don’t just mean disgruntled bros ranting about “walking simulators,” I mean more in-depth criticism of a perceived reliance on tear-jerking, emotionally manipulative storylines in indie games. Here’s one example.

“Emotion in games is now a kind of commodity, advertised and overstated, nakedly flaunted. The previous absence of any substance at all from games has, I think, left developers determined to compensate, overly so, for a kind of inherited creative deficit, an original sin…So we get a lot of flag-waving, a lot of shouting, a lot of protest by games which violently and profusely insist their emotions. It’s not subtle and perhaps it shouldn’t be, because games need to grow up and change. But it’s not evocative, either.”

At first glance, this sounds like an issue I discussed in the article about subtext – the question of how emphatically a game should make its thematic points. Given these comments, and the fact that it’s from a blog called “Shut Up, Video Games,” I tend to think this the writer prefers games that are more subtle about their themes and he’s got a point. Lots of smaller indie games make very sure their themes don’t go unnoticed because that’s become a big selling point among that particular audience.

Another bit I found interesting was the list of games he cited while discussing this trend – Journey, Braid, Sunset, Gone Home, Brothers, Flower. This is where I differ from the writer. That is a list of very different games and I think it’s too simple to lump them all together into this caricature of emotionally blunt games. I actually didn’t find Braid’s story all that emotional. Certainly intriguing, but it was so intellectualized and poetic that it didn’t really move me on that “gut” level. On the other hand, Gone Home was a surprisingly emotional experience for me to play, for two reasons: the sincerity of the voice acting and the interesting ways it played with expectations.

I’ve certainly played indie games where it felt like the writer was just reverse-engineering an “emotional” story that didn’t come from a place of personal feeling. I’ve also played great games where the details were so intimate that you could tell it came straight from the heart of its creators. Which games? Doesn’t matter. Different people will apply these reactions to different stories.

If the storytelling quality of the indie game world as a whole seems inconsistent, it might be the medium’s inexperience with the genre of “drama.” It sounds silly, but think about it. Genres like science-fiction, fantasy and action translated to video games immediately. But a genre typically defined in modern fiction as the non-fantastical ups and downs of simply being human? That’s fairly new. Hopefully we’ll get better at it with time.

What do you guys think? Have you played any indie games that blew you away with their storytelling? How about ones that seemed totally insincere? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


A Pixel Tells A Thousand Words

We can argue all day whether graphics are important to how good a game is (though I think we will all agree that if two games equal in all other areas, the one that looks better is better), but the one thing I don’t think CAN be denied is this: Visuals are one of the most important parts of marketing your game.

And Visuals aren’t the same as outputting 8 billion polygons, or whatever is cutting edge for you kids these days (I swear I’m not as old as that made me sound). Visuals is about style. Visuals is about something distinctive that will stick in someone’s brain.

For instance, look at this shot of the IGMC 2014 entry Oh! Ko!

OhKoIts not the most cutting edge graphics in the world. Its not causing any GFX cards to screech to a halt. But what it is doing, is causing your EYES to screech to a halt.

Its charming. Its unique. It has visuals that will stick in your head. I bet you that if I mentioned Oh! Ko! in a year, you would probably still remember this image, at least vaguely. (Especially now that I said that. Its like a brain worm. You cannot escape).

And that is everything that marketing is. Brain Worms. You want people to remember your game a month from now. A year from now. And the fastest way to do that is a unique visual style.

The first time I ever saw anything from the game Braid (a beautiful game, as you can see below), It was someone using that sprite as an avatar on a forum I ran.

Braid-screen01And here is the thing. That stuck in my head. Then I saw some screens of it, hadn’t heard anything about the gameplay yet. And those stuck in my head.

Finally, after seeing all those unique looking visuals, I decided to look up what the game was. The visuals drove my desire to see what the game was. Yes, after I heard about the mechanics, that got me interested, too, and that made me bite on actually buying it, but explaining mechanics takes TIME. And the key to getting that time is to give them a flash of something brilliant in your visuals. Visuals communicate instantly.

So when designing your game, really, really think hard about your visuals. They are the key to marketing your game. Because yes, pretty screenshots don’t make a good game, but pretty screenshots do get more eyes on a good game.



Achievements and Completionism

One of my favorite parts of newer games is the idea of achievements. They add a ton of replay value and encourage players to try out ways of playing a game that they might not have before. They can even sometimes teach players how to play the game in ways that a tutorial wouldn’t cover. People react to them differently. Some pay them no heed while other people are determined to get every last one of them. Those people have come to be known as completionists.

I fall somewhere in the spectrum, more towards the completionist side. However, I almost never get all of the achievements for any given game, that’s just too much time. So how to decide which “cheevos” to go for and which ones to leave behind? The formula for my level of completionism on a game is a combination of three things – how fun the achievement sounds, how well I can manage my progress, and the amount of confidence I have in my skills at that game. Let’s break it down.

Achievement Unlocked: Sweet Dreams.

Fun Achievements

I’ve seen a lot of achievements that don’t have much creativity behind them. Maybe you’ll have to shoot 100 enemies with each type of weapon, or hit 100 monsters with each type of magic. These aren’t particularly hard achievements, but they’re also not a whole lot of fun.

One of the most fun games I’ve played for hunting achievements is Brutal Legend. I spent quite a lot of time cruising around the world in my Metal-Mobile after the main storyline had ended because the achievements were so creative. When I saw that one of them was to jump a mastodon-esque monster in the car, I was totally on board. Achievements based on simple statistics or numbers usually aren’t so great. Use some imagination!

I suppose a potential downside to this would be achievements so original that it’s hard to figure out how to even get them. There was one in Bioshock: Infinite that said “kill 5 enemies while you are drunk.” I had like 4 gin and tonics and I still couldn’t get it to pop…

Achievement Unlocked: Piss off PETA.

Managing Achievements

This typically applies to more large-scale achievements. Many games have optional collectibles you can search for as you explore the world and this usually makes for some of the more challenging achievements. More often than not, I find these achievements not worth the effort. Why? It’s too hard to keep track of your progress. This is an issue older than achievements, as a matter of fact. Remember the blue coins in Super Mario Sunshine? There was NO way to keep track of how many you had gotten in a particular level and that made getting them all feel nearly impossible.

Initially, the Assassin’s Creed games had a similar issue with this stuff. These are sandbox games, often with several huge environments, so exploring is a major part of the experience. Naturally, collectibles are involved – some not too difficult, others very difficult. Whether it’s flags, feathers or “animus fragments,” there’s usually an achievement for finding at least a hundred tiny little objects in random spots all over the place. In the earlier games, there was no reason to even attempt this. They would only show up on the map when you were right near them and so you would just have to prowl around and hope one randomly popped up. No thanks.

Then something big changed with Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. While exploring any particular location, you now had the option of pulling up a list that showed how many collectibles were in each area. The map also had everything marked from the get go. Those may sound like minor cosmetic changes but they made a huge difference. By breaking things down into manageable chunks, it suddenly seemed feasible to collect all this crap! Black Flag was the first AC game where I actually collected everything. If you don’t make the players feel a big undertaking can be tracked conveniently, only the most driven completionists will go for an achievement like this.

Achievement Unlocked: Need New Carpet!

Confidence-Driven Achievements

When it comes to video game skill, I consider myself pretty average. Except for Rock Band. Since the first game, my instrument has been the microphone but I never expected to get to the level of skill I reached. Recently, in anticipation of the new RB game this year, I dusted off Rock Band 3 and sang a few songs. Despite being out of practice for a couple of years, after one song I got a message saying that I was now ranked #1 on the leaderboards for that song. I am really good at Rock Band.

I bring this up because when it comes to the achievements in those games, I have enough confidence to take on just about anything. One of the most infamous achievements ever is one from Rock Band 2 called “Bladder of Steel.” It required players to go through The Endless Setlist, an 8 hour marathon of music, without failing out or even pausing. The game had to be running the entire time. So one day when I had a lot of time to myself, I went for it. I spent a whole day stealing quick drinks of water bottles when the next song was loading or running to the bathroom during a long guitar solo (a benefit of using the mic is that you often have little breaks) and I got that achievement. It was madness. But I knew I could do it, so I wanted to.

Achievements are a great part of modern gaming, but like any other part of making a game, they need to be handled with care to be effective. To summarize:

  • Make your achievements fun.
  • With bigger ones, make sure progress can be easily tracked.
  • Reward the most dedicated players.

What are your favorite achievements? What’s the toughest one you’ve ever done? Let us know!

Achievement Unlocked: Finished Article.


Back in the 10 Questions to Ask Before You Write Your Game piece that I used to open this series, there were two important questions connected to one another: What is the game about? and What is the game really about? The difference between those two questions is the difference between text and subtext. As the prefix suggests, subtext is the message that lies beneath the surface of the story. This layer of meaning is a major way to convey what you want to say with your work – your theme. It can be hard to talk about this in a general sense, since everyone does this a little bit differently, but I think I can use a few examples to illustrate the more common methods of communicating subtext.

In the Bioshock series, the text and the subtext aren’t very far apart. These games enthusiastically delve into big issues like free will, bigotry and revolutionary politics. Players were blown away by the thematic intensity of the first Bioshock, which used those themes not just to comment on real life but also to question the very foundations of video games as a medium. Do you have free will while playing a game if you’re just doing what the game tells you to do in order to advance? That was one of the big questions behind Bioshock and it was thrilling to see a game with such an intellectual, academic subtext. By contrast, Bioshock: Infinite stumbled with its thematic content. Even though the rebellious slaves in Columbia were fighting for their own freedom and the ruling elite was simply fighting to continue oppressing them, the subtext placed both groups on the same low moral standing, which is just lazy.

Of course, the above is all just my opinion and that’s the risk you run into when your story is blunt with its themes. Some people enjoy it but others will find it really obnoxious and dismiss the game altogether, even if it has impressive art and/or gameplay. Want to start a fight in a crowded room? Bring up the movie Crash. It was adored by critics and even pulled off an upset win for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but the resulting backlash was swift and vicious. Why does it evoke such strong reactions? Because the racial commentary is so in-your-face that the subtext basically becomes the text. You’re not even reacting to the story anywhere, you’re reacting to the opinions of the writer.

I’m not against obvious subtext on principle – it is often a result of real passion and can be an intensely emotional experience for an audience. Just keep in mind that the more you make your thematic intentions clear, it becomes more likely that your work will be polarizing.

He’s the bomb….no, really!

Let’s look at a familiar game that takes a very different approach. The text of Final Fantasy VII is well known: a ragtag group tries to save the world from a genetically-engineered maniac. It also quickly becomes clear that the game is a parable about the environment and the importance of all life. However, speculating about what exactly the game is saying about these issues is where things get interesting. The game is so huge and the subtext is so layered that it can support a number of interpretations, sometimes even contradictory ones.

An example: When I watched a college friend play through FFVII (after playing it myself for the first time back in high school), I began to think that Sephiroth represented the atomic bomb. Think about it – he is the key weapon that makes the difference in the war with Wutai, a city with distinctly Japanese architecture and culture. However, when his creators lose control of him, he becomes a threat to all life on the planet. And if Wutai is Japan, does that mean that Midgar, a corporate plutocracy greedily draining the planet’s resources, is meant to be America? I can’t prove that the the writers intended to convey any of what I just said, but I can support it by analyzing the game’s story. This approach gives just enough subtext to allow the players to interpret the story in their own way. It’s an approach that is often very popular and respected, but requires sacrificing the idea of one clear indisputable theme.

Which approach is better? It honestly depends on what the writer hopes to achieve with the work. One thing I can say is not to try too hard. Subtext has a way of finding itself in a story naturally. In fact, sometimes there is subtext that the writer is not even aware of and that’s when it gets really interesting. But perhaps that’s a discussion for some other time.

This brings us to the end of our Story Series. If this is the first one you’ve seen and want to check out the rest, here’s the first entry with links to the rest. What do you think? Were there any aspects of writing you were hoping to hear about that we didn’t get into? Don’t be afraid to let us know and we’ll try and get to it sometime soon. Keep writing!


Are you Really Ready for Kickstarter?

So, Kickstarter.

The place where the little guy can get the money to make the thing, in our case, game, they’ve always wanted, but don’t have the resources to produce.

I know a few of you are going to go this route. And if you do plan on it: Good for you. But, before you get down to making that kickstarter, lets check if you are REALLY ready.

Let’s look at what I consider a really well organized Kickstarter for a indie video game:

And let’s break down why its good.

They Show That They CAN Produce a Game

You can, right now, download the demo of the game. This proves to people that the creators of the Kickstarter CAN actually make something. They also have several games behind them, and you should, too. Even if they are just small hobby games, you should have something to point to that says “I have made games. I can make games”.

If you want your first game to be a commercial game, then you are probably going to have to shoulder the financial burden of creation yourself. That is just the way it is. No one wants to back someone’s first game. There is no real guarantee of quality, or even that you can finish something.

But let’s talk about that playable demo: Kickstarter isn’t for half baked ideas with nothing behind them yet. When you go to Kickstarter, your project should already be pretty far along.



Repeat after me: ART! ART! ART! ART! ART! (This line gets my SEAL of Approval)

Yes, I know, games are about story, games are about gameplay, whatever, but marketing is about ART. And if you want to succeed at marketing your game, ART is where you are going to do it.

You will not succeed in crowdfunding if you can’t dazzle some eyes out there. And yes, I know, that if you aren’t an artist, art costs money. But the truth of the matter is, if you aren’t prepared to plop down a bit of cash for your dream, why should anyone else?

Pre-KS Buzz!


Just look at this list. Look at ALL THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE TALKED ABOUT UNRAVELED. Reach out. Get people talking about your game. Yeah, you are going to get a few rejections. But you need to start making pitches before you even get your Kickstarter up, because without people spreading the word, you are going to fail.

Contact vloggers, bloggers, gaming news, ANYONE who will listen to you. Pitch them the whole thing. Show them art, send them a demo if you can. You are going to get rejections. You may get a few people interested. Just a few of the right people is enough to cascade your game into popularity, and popularity = backing and backing = $$$$!

Have Your Pitch Down

What is your game about, how does it play? And most importantly: What makes it important? Why is this game worth backing over every other game out there? Unraveled centers itself around the setting (which frankly sounds really interesting), so what does YOUR game do?

And Even With All That:

You still might fail. One of the other reasons I picked Unraveled is that this is its second attempt at Kickstarter. And its first attempt almost looked just as good as this one. I wanted it to succeed before, and I want it to succeed now, but even with all that it does right, it may not.

And I know what you are thinking. “What about that dumb game that succeeded, or that guy who made Potato Salad?” Well yeah. Sometimes something dumb just gets funded because it hits some viral weirdness that pushes it into the stratosphere. But that is a minority. Don’t play with your Kickstarter like it’s the lottery. Do your legwork. Get as much as your game finished as you can without the money. Have past games to point to to say “Hey, I can do this.”. Have something to show off. Have some flashy bling. Have people already talking about it, and know how to talk about it yourself.

Because in the end, you might have that flashy pile of money to do something you never dreamed of. But you don’t get there without hard work.

Do you have any advice on how to make a Kickstarter work? There is a lot left I don’t even touch on, and I’d love to hear your top tips! Join the discussion in the comments section below.