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8 Lessons I Learnt Making Tealy & Orangey

This is a ramshackle account of the 8 specific lessons I learnt during the creation of a Flash puzzle/platform game.

Tealy & Orangey is a small puzzle/platform game made in Flash. It was made by just me, in my spare time.

Very slightly under two months ago I spent an evening learning Flash and the Flixel library written by Adam Atomic (of Canabalt fame). It was the usual momentary spurt of wanting to learn something new, combined with wanting a fast prototyping tool. XNA is nice and fairly straight forward, but I still find it a bit too much to get a simple game running.

Flixel, as I mentioned earlier, is fantastic for prototyping and other quick 2D game development.

In the time after that, I spent the odd hour here and there making a sort of re-imagining of one of my favourite games of the Amiga era, Cannon Fodder. For some reason nobody has made a modern “one man RTS” (I guess maybe League of Legends and the like are similar, but always with the elves and orcs!).

So I was plodding on with a few hours of progress here and there. I got to the point of having a map, enemies, various weapons, and a lot of the core elements in place, when it because Christmas.

Actually that’s a lie, just before Christmas the usual deluge of good games came out, and distracted me from doing any development for a while.

After Christmas I was wanting to get back in to it, but it had been just enough time that I had gotten a little rusty. And to be honest, I was getting a little fatigued by not having much of a whole game to show.

Lesson 1: When people say “start small”, listen to those people. They are clever and I am an idiot.

So I wanted a small game idea that I could get together into something to release. I don’t usually tell people my New Year resolutions, because I think it’s a bit naff, but I had been very annoyed at myself last year for starting a few games and not finishing them. This year I had told myself I was going to release something, and something I could be proud of.

But I needed an idea.

I had the idea of a platform game. I really like the theory of games like Super Meat Boy, N+, and VVVVVV. I say the theory, because I’m absolutely awful at them. Just don’t have the skill or reactions at all. But what if I was to make one, I could make it with levels that I could do. That would work.

Lesson 2: Make something that you really want to play. Because you’ll be seeing a lot of it, and later on you’ll have to tell people why it’s absolutely brilliant.

But there are a lot of games like that out there. I’m sure there are other people like me thinking of making a new one. I’d need a hook. To be entirely honest, I can’t remember what clicked the idea of Tealy & Orangey in to place. I just remember visualising the horizontal split, the two colours, and then later levels with holes in the floor.

(Actually, I’m going to edit myself here. I have just remembered that for whatever reason, a PS2 game called Kuri Kuri Mix – The Adventures of Cookie & Cream in some territories – had been floating around in to my head. Looking back, this must have been the inspiration to some degree, as it was a game that could be played by a single player who would have to move two characters. You had different controls for each, but it’s too similar to not have been an influence on my line of thought.)

At this point the game was in black & white in my head. It’s a simple colour scheme that lets you get away with a lot in terms of not having a lot of detail in the art (I am no artist). The problem, I was thinking, was Limbo. And the Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom. And probably a load of other really nice looking greyscale games. Frankly, it’s been done, and it’s been done a lot better than I would be able to do it.

I needed another colour scheme, of two striking colours. I have no idea why it popped in to my head, but I suddenly thought of the “Hollywood loves teal & orange too damn much” rants from last year. Teal and Orange. It would even add an extra level of reference that would make players feel “in the know” if they get it. Unbelievably, this seems to have worked.

Lesson 3: People feel connected to a game if there is an “in joke” they get. Just make sure those that don’t get the joke aren’t excluded. Or think that the joke is about testicles.

Looking at my Workflowy list for Tealy & Orangey (sorry, you do use Workflowy, don’t you? Because it’s awesome and you should) I see what ended up being a fairly faithful description of the finished game:

  • Teal & Orange
    • Simple platformer
    • 8 x 8 graphics
    • player controls a teal block and an orange block
    • controls are mirrored for blocks – teal going left makes orange go right
    • hazards in orange or teal, only affected by like-coloured hazards
    • levels start out seperated, end up crossing over

Did you notice the odd one out?

Originally you were currently in control of just one of the avatars. I think I was going to put a particle effect (similar to the trails they have in the current version) on the one you were moving. The other one would mirror your left / right controls.

To anyone who says the game is confusing now, oh boy, you should have played this version. In a level with static hazards you pretty much had to creep forward, or rely on muscle memory mapping out the route for you. It was suitably strange and unique, but absolutely no fun to me. So, it had to go. Who knows, maybe I’ll bring it back as an “insane difficulty” mode.

Lesson 4: If it doesn’t feel like it’s going to feel right once you’ve tweaked it and fixed the bugs, scrap it. Hey, if it turns out to be a great idea after all you can always re-code it.

Actually, there’s other stuff in my Workflowy list as well. “Moving platforms?” is another that I will refer you back to lesson 4. The collision wasn’t working very well, they were a little bit unpredictable, and the feedback I’d had about them matched my own gut feeling that they were another moving element that just complicated things. Fixing the collision would have been a couple of hours work, and they might still have been rubbish. Reworking the levels that used them was about an hour’s work, and would lower the feature set.

It was an easy choice to make.

The next one says “hidden stuff in levels?” This was because of a creeping feeling that I had that people would find just platforming a bit boring, and that the difficulty could be a turn off. Having bonus stuff to collect would allow for optional harder challenges for players to do, while keeping the main progression fairly easy. The problem was “what would you collect?” I mean, the game’s not Braid, there’s no story behind it. Stars or something? It just seemed very arbitrary, and I wasn’t totally sold on the idea.

Especially since I had set my mind on having all the levels be single screens (I didn’t want to run the chance of having one of the two avatars not visible), and even with 8×8 tiled graphics there is a limit to how much puzzle space you can fit in for entirely optional routes.

A lot of these issues were resolved in my head when I had a few close friends play the game. Now, this can be tricky. Depending on how good they are as friends, and how well they know games, you do run the risk that your friends might say a bad game is good to be nice to you. Or worse, they might genuinely think a bad game is good, and lead you down the wrong path.

Thankfully these people are very close friends, so I knew they would feel comfortable telling me if my game was bobbins. On the other point … I trust their judgement as much as I would trust anybody’s. At the end of the day, people have different tastes so you can’t act on every piece of feedback. But you should take it all in with an open mind.

Lesson 5: Get some playtest with people you trust to be truthful. Listen to everything they say (but don’t feel you have to do it, because it’s your game. And if you can’t make exactly the indie game you want to, what’s the point).

After a few iterations of this over subsequent evenings, I was feeling good about the game. I had a suspicion it was doing something fairly new (at least, I couldn’t bring to mind a similar game at the time). There was a problem though – as well as not being an artist, I’m also not an audio engineer. I had no idea what sort of music or sound effects I wanted for the game, what would suit it, or where I would get those things without paying (it’s a game I was releasing for free, I wasn’t going to pay someone else for some assets for it).

I knew that if I held off releasing until I had audio, I would be spending the time tinkering. Maybe making the game better, maybe making it worse. It’s hard to tell.

In the end, I decided to go for an initial launch with no audio at all. Surprisingly, almost nobody seems to care. I’m not sure if people play flash games with the audio off (because they’re in offices, or schools), if they thought it was a stylistic choice, or if they were just glad that I hadn’t put ear-piercing techno or heavy metal in there (unlike 99% of flash games). One way or another it didn’t matter to them, and I’ve only had very few comments about it.

Lesson 6: You can release a little indie game with no audio and people will not care. (Also expensive HDMI cables do not improve audio quality fyi.)

Right, I have a feeling I should start wrapping up this monster post. So here are the last couple of lessons.

Lesson 7: Don’t release your game right at the end of the day, when you’re tired and about to go to bed. Or, get some energy drinks in.

You need to hang around and promote it a bit while it’s still on the first page of “new releases”. You need to fill in submission forms, and make a little icon. You need to do things that are better when you’re awake. You idiot.

Lesson 8: Update. Put right what once went wrong.

The benefit of releasing a game in a fairly “bare bones” initial state is that there is a lot you can add later. On your own site or Kongregate, you can upload new versions to your heart’s content. And people will love that you are supporting the game and making it better. Really. I know, it sounds almost counter-intuitive, like the audio thing.

 

This article was originally posted on my personal blog at http://www.mainlyaboutgames.co.uk

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