For a long time now we’ve had our “Dev Diary” (short for Developer Diary) section here at PocketFullOfApps, which is dedicated for any guest posts, editorials, or any big articles we publish. For a first time, we have a Dev Diary article devoted to how a game was made or an account right from the developer’s point-of-view. So with out any further to do, you can read James Barnard’s Developer Diary on his game, Nuclien.
A long time ago in a country far far away I started thinking about what it would be like to develop games for a living. Sometime later after a mostly failed carer as a musician I found myself working at a company in the middle of England engulfed by concrete towers called “Full Fat”. It was a small company making mainly handheld games for the Gameboy Advance, PSP and Nintendo DS. Because it was so small I got to try my hand at pretty much everything and learned a mountain about how to make games. I headed off in to the sunset and ended up in Singapore working at Lucasarts as a lead designer on several big budget Star Wars games, while Full Fat set off in a new direction eventually starting to make iOS games like Flick Golf, Coin Drop and most recently the excellent Agent Dash.
I’d say Full Fat were thinking in the right direction, having worked on the birth of touch screen gaming with the NDS (Nintendo DS) it made perfect sense for them to get on board with the iOS platform, and step away from the stagnating console market.
I found it very hard to pluck up the courage and do the same, casting aside a steady salary and jumping on the indie train, but somehow here I am!
I want to talk about my second title: Nuclien. The game is built on a simple concept, a selection of numbers appear on the screen in random positions and you hunt though them trying to count from lowest to highest, or highest to lowest…or when things get really crazy you count in both directions at the same time. The numbers aren’t always sequential, so you might have 3 number sixes, and then after that need to tap a number eight (because there isn’t a number seven on the screen). It all comes together to make a very addictive and compelling experience (or at least so I am told!).
The thing is, the gameplay is clearly pretty simple, and when I first started on the project it was intended to be a quick throw away title that I would make for fun, while the main goal would be learning some new technology. So I intended to spend a few days, maybe a week making it, then move on to something more substantial. Well I was kind of right, I got the numbers appearing on the screen, and the basic logic for playing the game working in a few days. At this point I thought things were going to plan, so I set about tidying it up by adding some menus, a progression system and some levels, and…and…suddenly it was 2 months later! Despite my decimated schedule, I still got it done and decided to launch the game on Windows Phone. At this point making the game was nothing more than a hobby that I did outside of my real job! I think in the end it sold 30 copies or so (although the free version hit 12,000, which despite not helping my bank, helped my sense of worth!).
Sometime later I started working on iOS as a full time indie developer, and thought it would be a good idea to dig up my Windows phone game and port it across (seeing as the free version had generally favorable reviews, this seemed like a good idea). Surely it would only take a couple of weeks…well within a week the game was working on iPhone and looked just like it did on the WP7…but then I decided to refine it a little further…once again, I found myself adjusting levels, changing graphics and making menu’s pretty. The gameplay remained pretty much untouched! After 2 months I was starting to get somewhere…then as my friends started playing it (who are mostly games industry folk like me) they told me it was good, but I should refine it further, to make it super awesome…I hammered on at it, every week changing things a little bit here and a little bit there.
I think I finally submitted it to Apple somewhere around 14 weeks after starting the iOS version! The funny thing is the gameplay logic code remains unchanged from what I wrote in the first week on Windows Phone! I spent months and months just on the presentation.
So now it’s out and available on the App Store, I am very proud of it, and think that it, along with my last game Hiragana Pixel Party stand as two of the best things I have made in my career so far. These two games were made by me alone at home, in comparatively zero time when compared to the other titles I have worked on, which sometimes included teams of hundreds and budgets of millions. I think the world is changing, if you have a game idea it’s not too hard for you to go out there and learn how to make it! Sure it’s still far from easy, but when I think back to five years ago there weren’t really any valid avenues to even try making something yourself. Now there are huge online communities to help you overcome problems, and avenues for you to actually try and sell your app once you have finished it. (I am guessing more people are buying apps for their iPhones than even owned a PC 15 years ago).
So my game is out, people seem to like it, but it never snagged the illusive what’s hot spotlight from apple, so it isn’t really taking off as I had hoped. I am hoping that somehow further down the line it will catch people’s imaginations, but until then I am quite happy working on my next project…or the project after that. Being creative is a lot of fun, and making games / apps brings together everything, art music and design, if you have even the slightest interest in making stuff I suggest getting out there and giving it a go. Really it isn’t as hard as you think, but as this article should have taught you, it’s probably try and come up with the simplest idea you can…then throw that away and think of simpler one.