So I took a break from contracts and Fire Child to make this dumb game called Deflated. I did it just to answer: could I start and finish a game in a week? I have been making solo games nonstop for the past several years, but only a couple have reached the public. My fiancée (who is unbelievably encouraging) likes to remind me of how I let lofty ideas take over my development process. And with no dev partner, prioritizing correctly is a beast of a task.
But g'dammit, I did it. I made the Unity project on a Monday afternoon, and I submitted the build to iTunesConnect the following Monday morning. (I don't count the next two days of Apple's "Waiting for Review".)
I play A LOT of mobile games. Lotsa free ones. Many of the ketchapp ones, because they're often pretty solid. Stack is an example of a game that I respect. It is smart. It even has this note of physicality to it, despite the gameplay being not at all about physics. Currently I keep returning to Flip Diving by miniclip. That game is just about rotation, with the fun of floppy ragdoll people (and plenty of variant content to pay or gamble for).
Simple physics, easy interaction.
Deflated is that. You have a balloon, and it's flying upward. The player simply presses or taps to inflate the balloon. If it gets too deflated, it falls and the game is over. If the balloon overinflates, it pops and the game is over. And if it runs into any of the increasingly large spikes on the sides of the screen, it pops.
My idea was that the more a balloon is inflated the straighter it flies. Maybe that's not perfectly true, but it feels true, and that's games, right? More force when heavily inflated; the surface and shape of the balloon is more taut: straighter. I settled on a very simple equation:
-The strength of Y is controlled only by how inflated the balloon is.
-The value of the X velocity is added to every frame by a delta value that's always changing linearly. The X delta is going up or down by .05 units every frame. And every few frames, there is a random chance that the sign will switch. The chance that the sign (1 or -1) switches is higher the more inflated. THUS: When very inflated, there is a constant subtle wobble as the xSpeed wobbles back and forth, but as the balloon loses air, the chance the sign will switch starts to drop, so the balloon starts veering wildly.
It works well in feeling like a balloon.
There are a couple other subtle things. I reset a couple values when the player releases their finger. And while inflating, the balloon moves toward the center. But that's pretty much it. It's simple, fake physics.
As often happens, I did not realize how hard this mechanic would be to grasp. Admittedly, I don't teach players (7 day self-imposed goal and all), and so there's this weird and clearly frustrating element where the player definitely has control over the left and right velocity, but it's not clear why. I essentially removed a player input, but not player control. Apparently this is my thing. (See also Dead End)
I put ads in a game for the first time (to test it myself). Ads are hard to do well, but I think it's dumb to say they are only gross. I do wish I could show ads for things I cared about, like Doctors Without Borders, instead of some random game, but them's the breaks. And I started with unskippable ads. They are now skippable.
A FEW MORE THOUGHTS
For a few days of work, I like Deflated. I've already released another game called Welfare State and a third of the way into yet another. I have been a bit down, so producing and releasing things has been a bit of a pick-me-up.
Independent development is challenging and, at 31, I am navigating that frontier where I would consider myself an expert in a lot of ways, and able to command a premium rate. But that rate is above what most people are looking to pay. It's a new landscape because I built my career being an eager creator with a youthful price tag. There are lots of options if you're willing to work for a minimum.
But you have to increase that price. Build that market, that platform, that audience and those collaborators. A lot of my former collaborators are exploring new markets and places, and the dynamics of the market, as always, are changing. I'm watching it all, figuring out exactly where do I want to go? I have usually been working from the comfort and quiet of just being a contributor on amazing teams. Now I'm focusing on my thoughts, my creations, as the commodity. I am the commodity.
I make some clever art and I have a penchant for designing off-beat things. You should download Deflated to see how it works, and to consume some of those ads.