So that was 2011: My first six indie months…

by bluescrn

A New Beginning

At the start of 2011, I was working at FreeStyleGames, and had worked on a couple of great projects there (DJ Hero 1 and 2). But early that year, a project was cancelled, and it was looking like Activision were going to close the studio.

We went through a very grim 3 month consultation period, expecting the worst. In the end, the studio survived, after making significant redundancies. Which turned out to be my opportunity to have a go at some full-time indie game development!

I’d experimented a bit with iOS earlier in the year, and decided to use Marmalade (formerly ‘Airplay SDK’) – as this allowed me to develop in C++, using Visual Studio on Windows, and target both iOS and Android. It provided a ready-made platform abstraction layer and a good build system. And it let me use OpenGL ES directly.

My first game was initially going to be ‘Fluff’, a physics-based rotating-level platformer that I’d already started to prototype. But I quickly realised that it was quite an ambitious project, especially if I was going to do my own art. So really, I either needed to work with an artist, or work on something smaller, at least for my first iOS game.

Fluff had actually made some decent progress though, especially looking back at this screenshot (before I really messed up the grassy tileset, trying to reduce the chunky black outline/shadow on it!). But there wasn’t much gameplay there.


Fluff is currently on hold. It may be revisited in some form, eventually.

From Little Acorns…

But by July, I’d teamed up with Andy Gibson (who I’d worked with in the past at Gusto Games), to work on what at the time was called ‘Hurry Home Mr. Squirrel’. Andy had been trying to make this game himself for quite a while – but as an artist, it was his first programming project. So whilst the art style had made a lot of progress – the game code, based originally on the XNA Platformer Starter Kit wasn’t in such a good state…  Andy had been aiming to get it out on XBLIG, but really wanted to get it onto iOS.

Initially, it looked like a very simple project, maybe 2 months or so, keeping it really simple – a scrolling tile-based platformer with only a few enemy and collectable types. I adapted my existing level editor, ‘TwoDee’, to handle tilemaps for the project, and withing a few days there was a squirrel jumping around them on my iPhone.

Little Acorns - Early build

An early build of Little Acorns, running on iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Windows (on a Mac…)

Soon that quick+simple project started to grow in scope… I wanted to add the grappling mechanic from one of my Ludum Dare games. We prototyped it, and both loved the results. I polished the controls, optimized the rendering to ensure we’d get a solid 60fps out of an iPhone 3GS or above, and it was starting to look rather good.

Playing other iOS platformers – which mostly had poor controls or bad framerates, motivated us further. More features! More polish! More levels! And a shorter name… ‘Little Acorns‘ fits nicely under the app icon!

After a surprisingly productive 3 months or so, the game wasn’t far from finished – it mostly needed levels building (but we had another level designer helping out, too). We sent a build to Chillingo, who liked it, and are now publishing it.

That led to a fair bit of tweaking and a bit more feature creep – and before I knew it, it was late November… That little project of ours had taken about 5 months (1 full-time-ish coder, 1 part time artist/musician, 1 occasional level designer)

Anyway, it’s finished now (at least on iOS), and I’m quite happy with the end result. It’s just down to Chillingo to spread the word – it’s going to be in the App Store on Feb 16th!

Little Acorns

Little Acorns: Screenshot from the finished game

It’s got a preview thread on TouchArcade here, and a first trailer is here (cool, almost 1000 views!).

So that was my first 5 months of indie development. December was a bit of a write-off, I’m not really sure where it went. I did bits of work on Little Acorns porting (Android/PC), but we’re now holding back on that to see if the iOS version sells, and whether it’s worth investing further time on these.

I also started working on a word game prototype, some sort of mix of Scrabble, Tetris, and Greedy Bankers. The current working title is ‘Cunning Linguists‘, but that may have to change…

Other Stuff

So what else happened in 2011. Well,  I completely failed to do anything about my weight/health. I’d hoped that once I didn’t have a full-time job, having less stress and not being tied to a desk from 9:30-18:00 would have helped. But so far, it hasn’t. I’ve spent a similar number of hours at a desk anyway, but without the walk to and from work…  I really need to make more of an effort this year to cut down on the beer and snacks…

I’ve accumulated way too many mobile devices (6 iOS devices, 1 Android phone, and 1 WP7 phone so far), and expect to end up with even more if I get serious about Android… Or if Apple really do release an iPad 3 with a ‘new year’s resolution’ of 2048×1536 (1024×768 doubled) that I’d have to support…  But I started out with a reasonable amount of savings (saved whilst living cheaply, like a student, in a shared house whilst earning a reasonable salary for a couple of years!), so I’m not broke yet, and I’m anticipating at least another 6-12months of indie-ness, before having to find a job if I’m still not earning anything significant…

On the more positive side, Midlands Indies got started this year – monthy pub meetups, alternating between Leamington and Coventry. The turnout has been pretty good most of the time. And I managed to get to a couple of TIGJams, which were fun.  And of course, there were a couple more Ludum Dare entries!

So now it’s 2012…

Despite Little Acorns taking significantly longer than intended, maybe that wasn’t a bad first 6 months as full-time-indie. One game made, from start to finish. £0 income (yet) – but some reusable tools/code developed, and a fair bit of experience dealing with iOS. Also, my Photoshop skills have improved a fair bit.

So what’s to come this year?:

Firstly, Little Acorns updates and porting work. If we go ahead with the ports, or an update for iOS, this is likely to be keeping me occupied for at least a little while. We’ve got an Android build to tidy up, and have the option of releasing on PC, too (maybe via IndieCity), and it looks like we may be porting to WP7, which is a significantly bigger job.

Then I’d like to finish at least one, but ideally two more games this year. The first is likely to be the word game (iOS), and the second will be something a bit more ambitious. There’s the possibility of a momentum-based iOS action game. Tiny Wings meets Unirally, sort of. Or a fast-paced into-the-screen 3D game (influnced by STUN Runner, Trailblazer, and more). Or maybe I’ll resurrect Fluff…

Alternatively, I may do something with Flash (+Stage3D). Maybe finishing the twin-stick-shooty-game that I started for Ludum Dare 22, or maybe something rather more ambitious and multiplayer…

Also, I’ve got to avoid becoming too addicted to SWTOR or any other evil MMO!

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