Defenders of the Last Colony was developed by Knitted Pixels, Sergio Santos and Victor Santos, two brothers who went indie developers in 2012. Available in Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/326110/
The original idea was to bring the fun of a classic 2D arcade shooter in a multiplayer coop, where players need to collaborate to be able to survive. Think of a “Left 4 Dead” with 2D spaceships where you have a class that can build and heal and another class more focus on firepower. We did a prototype, and it was fun, but it was missing some clear objective (standing there while hordes run out wasn’t enough). So we added a huge colony to protect and suddenly we had a Tower Defense game with a ton of fast paced action. Also we needed some currency to gather and spend it on building structures.
In order to give the game some progression, we placed some relics that gives you new abilities. And we also thought about replayability adding 4 different players (spaceships) and some leveling.
This video shows the progression of the development:
There are actually two Defenders of the Last Colony games. The first was made in 2D in XNA and released on XBLIG (Xbox 360) and PC (non-Steam). The second was pretty much made from scratch, only a few assets were reused (less than 10%), in Unity, with beautiful 3d graphics and released on Steam.
What went right
1. Ton of content and low price
People love free things and the first Defenders of the Last Colony was not free but it was pretty close. You could find it on XBLIG at $1 and 2.99€ on Desura. For us it was more important to reach a wider audience than making money, and the cheaper the game is the more people you can reach out. Also many people (players and reviewers) pointed out that the game was offering a lot for its low price: 4 pilots, 2 ship classes, 12 worlds to explore, 3 retro modes, 30 challenges, 15 awards, Cooperative gameplay, Survival mode.
For the second Defenders we reduced a bit the game modes but added two more ships and redone the graphics in beautiful 3D with great lighting and FXs. There are also some more enemies and re-done level design. Most of the soundtrack is also new for the Steam version. Despite that the game is more expensive ($9.99) it’s already selling better than in XBLIG and Desura combined.
The press was happy to talk about the game. Indie developers out there, don’t be shy! Talk about your game and write emails to every gaming site and video game journalist. They love new things, different gameplays, or a simply and honest personal approach to them from a passionate developer. Most of the sites gave us excellent reviews, also when it wasn’t a great score at least was some feedback to work on. And I believe it help us to bring some potential customers.
3. Groupees Greenlight Bundle
One of the highlights of the developing process was when Groupees contacted us about being on their next Greenlight Bundle. We said yes, of course. The bundle sold about five thousand units. It may not be as much as some other bundles, but it’s a lot of people that can play our game. We definitely look forward to be included in more bundles in the future.
We got through greenlight thanks to to Who’s Gaming Now. Which means lot of free keys for them, but it’s ok, we got a great feedback and added some elements to the game that the people in the forum was asking to. At the end a developer has to build the game for his audience.
What went wrong
1. Errors and glitches on day 1
We were just 2 people developing the game, so our resources are very limited. We tested the game in our computers and consoles, did the same with our family and friends, and even computers at work. So we tested in as many computers as we could (at least 20 computers, with different hardware and software configuration). Before the release it was running flawlessly in every machine we installed it. So we release the game, first on Xbox (XBLIG in August 2012) and a few weeks later on PC (Windows, on Desura, Indiecity, Indievania...), and at last on Steam in June 2016.
On Xbox people started reporting that the game was freezing on the loading screen, but it only happen to some people, mostly when the game was running on the Xbox Slim version. So after some debugging and testing (the XNA community was a big help here) I was ready to submit a patch for the game. But that’s not as easy as it looks. First the community has to approve it and that was a really slow process. XNA developers have to download your game and then fill out a form and approve it, then after awhile it gets release on the platform. By the time it got up the game was already lost in the vast released collection of manga-erotic text adventures, controller vibration massage and minecraft cloning games.
Then it came the PC version, which we had tested in more than 20 different rigs. For most of the people was running fine, but some users reported the game crashing right when they clicked on the exe. I’m the only programmer for the game, I’m not a professional coder and I do it only on my spare time after my regular day job. In addition I have my personal life, with its everyday things and personal issues to take care of. And also I had to take care of the XBLIG problem. After I solved that I focus on the PC version. Since I couldn’t reproduce the problem in any of my home or work computers I was blind… I had no idea why some people were experiencing this crash. It turned out that it was a external library from a Microsoft guy that I was using to save the data on both (Xbox and Windows). It was working fine on Xbox, but on PC it only works if you have the development version of XNA installed. Finally I released the patch, but it took me more than one month to solve it since the original release.
Some people were really pissed off about the crash, but we couldn’t believe that they were not aware that it was just one part-time coder patching 2 different platforms in his spare time. I’ve seen worse crashes in AAA games and we don’t complain that much, we just wait for the patch to be release. Anyway we think that first month of people complaining didn’t help the sales at all.
2. Poor exposure
A lot have been said about how hidden indie games are in the Xbox dashboard. It’s true. I had some friends that wanted to buy the game and they couldn’t find it, I had to tell them how to navigate in the dashboard, and they are gamers that play at least a few hours a week. Even some of them didn’t even know that such thing would exist on their 360.
On PC it’s pretty much the same. Either you are on Steam or it’s almost impossible to do some real money. We put the game on Desura and it has sold about 25% of what it has done on XBLIG. The rest of the sites didn’t sell much. I specially like Indievania (now itch.io), since you get 100% of the money and you get it on your paypal account right away. In Desura they don’t pay you until you reach $500, and I’m quite certain that most developers cannot reach that number, at least not with their first game.
So the big sites like Steam (that was before greenlight), GoG and Gamersgate didn’t want the game, that means that less people would see our game, and a lot indie sites were doing previews and reviews, but the big sites like Gamespot, IGN, Giantbomb, RockPaperShotgun, etc were ignoring us (so less potential interested people would know about our game).
At first Greenlight seemed like a great idea. Defenders entered Greenlight on day one. For the first few weeks we were getting mostly “yes” votes, but Greenlight was a chaos, most games that were greenlit were probably going to get on to Steam without Greenlight anyway, and a lot of crappy ones got in. But even with that at one point we manage to get to the top one hundred for a brief period of time.
The comments were one of the things that amaze me the most. Like “I vote down because it doesn’t have coop” (what! it’s on the first line of the description! it does have coop!), or another of my favourites “I vote NO because there are too many anachronism on the description” (What! there were two anachronism, RTS, real time strategy as every gamer know, and DOTLC, THE NAME OF THE GAME!!!). As I said, AMAZING!
Who’s Gaming Now approached us and the game finally got on Steam. But I’ve seen with other developers that it looks much easier to get on Steam through greenlight right now. I don’t know if the discovery works better or if it’s easier since they include more games per month now (it used to be 10 per month, now it’s 100), but it’s there, and it’s one of the best feelings you can get with something so intangible as a digital creation.
4. Too complicated
We believe we put too much stuff in the gameplay. So far… you have to move, shoot, build defenses, protect the core of the colony, collect resources, pick relics, level up, use bombs, get items, all that to get to the next level and from time to time you get to unlock a bonus in the form on a retro game… yep, some people didn’t get the game at all. So to solve that problem we decided to create some slides explaining the gameplay mechanics, and a tutorial level with some voice over explaining the core of the game.
Well, it doesn’t matter that we took the time to create the slides and added the voice and the messages, people just don’t read the slides and don’t listen or read the messages. That’s another experience where you learn to make better design choices.
5. Real Life
One factor we didn’t have in mind is how easily life changes…
We start playing around with the idea of indie development in 2011, by 2012 we were working part time just to have enough for rent and other expenses and dedicated our time to develop. But in all these years a lot had happened.
For starters I became a father, which took a lot of my time. Not only that but my son has a disability, which means I have take him to the therapies and doctors appointments and a lot more stuff that most families don’t have to deal with.
My brother (the other part of the team) moved overseas, which makes development a bit more difficult.
And if all that is not enough my wife got breast cancer when my son was less than 2 years old. She is recovering really well, but it’s being a really tough these last two years. More doctors, more stuff to do at home, and deal with the psychological stuff of cancer, plus a child.
Some people complain about the delays of the game, but I think this time we got some pretty good excuses...
As you can imagine developing can be difficult when you have these situations at home. Sometimes you don’t have the time, sometimes you’re not in the mood for it, or you are simply too tired. But passion for what we do is so strong even with all that we didn’t quit, we finish it and we are really proud.
We learned from our mistakes, and we’ll be able to make new ones on future games. But we are not quitting. We had a great time working on our game and we want to keep doing just that, have fun creating our very own games. We are gamers at heart, we love retro games, and we’ll keep doing games even if we don’t make any money at all.
The first Defenders of the Last Colony made almost six thousand copies. Most of it thanks to the Greenlight Bundle by Groupees. At XBLIG it has sold 228 units (at 80 Microsoft points it just paid for the Creators Account). Desura is about 63 units, the rest sites made less than 20 units each. The newly remade version in 3D of Defenders of the Last Colony has being activated on 8555 Steam accounts, but only about 2.3% has paid for it (lot of people got it from the Build a Greenlight Bundle or Who’s Gaming Now).
Even though our first independent game hasn’t been a success we have received a great support from our family and friends, and some very nice comments from some of the buyers of our game. We are passionate about what we do and we’ll keep doing it.
I hope that his reading help some indie developers out there to improve their projects, get some ideas or learn something from our mistakes. If you want to check out our current projects:
Our youtube channel:
And our website:
Thanks for reading!
About the author
Sergio Santos is a former Character Artist that have worked at Ubisoft Montreal, Climax Action, OOOii, and some other small studios as well as some freelance work. You can see some of his work in games like FarCry 2, Lost, Shaun White Snowboarding, X-Men 3: The Last Stand. He founded Knitted Pixels with his brother Victor Santos (a videogame environment artist with experience in AAA games like Batman: Arkham Origins, Fable Fortune and World of Tanks, currently working for Mediatonic) in 2012.
About the game
Defenders of the Last Colony is a Top-Down Shooter with Strategy gameplay mechanics, where you have to protect the Colony's core while you gather resources and build defenses. You play as one of the 4 classes: Fighter, Striker, Carrier or Engineer.
Fighters and Strikers focus on gun power while Engineers can build more structures (like turrets, repair platforms...) and Carriers can defends themselves while carrying more orbs to the colony. Defenders features coop up to 4 players and 3D graphics.
Available in Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/326110/
Defender of the Last Colony is their first indie game. For more information go to: