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The Cusp

Two long years in development, and we're nearly ready to launch Lazarus on iPad. What's taken so long, how does it feel to come so close, and what can you do to help?

Two years is a long time to be making a game for.

Lazarus started shortly after my first Gamecity appearance. T’was there that the lure of my homemade lemon drizzle cake (thanks for the recipe mum!) was too much to bear for Andrew Roper, and he introduced himself to me while I demo’d Smash the Block (release tbd!).

He struck me as a smart and affable chap, and it turns out he’s also a very talented coder - I had my eye on him for a potential UDK collaboration… and that turned into what we now know as Lazarus.

Starting out life as simply ‘Asteroids for modern audiences’ and an opportunity to test UDK as well as our working relationship, it snowballed.

Now, a mere 3 weeks from worldwide launch, it has become 1) an amalgam of StarfoxGeometry Wars and Jetpack Joyride, while 2) attempting to ‘solve’ the idea of a no-holds-barred twin stick shooter on touch-screens, 3) developing a working free-to-play model inside the bounds of a traditional game genre, and 4) creating a hardcore game for a casual audience (or should that last one be the other way around?).

Yeah. Probably a bit… optimistic?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I’d rather this didn’t turn into a premature post mortem, so I’m going to tell you precisely why you should care… and then ask you a question at the end to see if you were paying attention.

First up, our refusal to budge on the ‘no fake control sticks’ combined with Roper’s endless patience means that - and I’m pretty confidently saying this as an objective statement - we’ve solved the two stick shooter for touch screens.

It’s deceptively simple-sounding; the player drags their ship, and taps anywhere else on the screen to aim and shoot in that direction. It took many iterations to get there, but it was worth it.

Secondly, we’ve managed to inject the game with what I hope will become a signature of Spilt Milk’s output. Almost everything in the game is a daft, comical or at least not-annoying character. Basically your human pilot avatar, the ship’s gun AI, and all the unique powerups (apart from the ones that affect the player’s gunner, Pug) have faces and personalities, and will change their relationship with you as you play through the game.

They may chatter with too few variations, and perhaps most players won’t even notice them while they’re blasting away at the evil hordes under their fingers, but if only a few people notice that as you level up the powerups, their characters change and grow, and if only some of those people care… then it will have been worth it. I love creating characters and I think this odd bunch (a homing-missile firing cat, a scared rabbit and a greedy panda to name but a few) are really fun, unique to Lazarus, and cute to boot.

What else have we done? I truly believe we’ve managed to create a straight, fair, and trustworthy free-to-play system based on a coin economy that players can engage with on a level akin to XP and upgrading in light RPG’s, or can skip with money… but crucially offering nothing that cannot be earned through entertaining play.

But this stuff is so inextricably linked to the game’s audience that I’m a tiny bit scared. The main audience on mobile is used to free games, but not shooters. And the shooter audience is probably not on mobile (in the main) and similarly is probably not keen on the free-to-play model.

Lazarus is a game that could be ignored by both audiences for different reasons. Or it is a game that could tickle the fancy of people in both, and therefore become something of a surprising hit. But I am pretty sure we have no control over which one of those is true.

So I’m asking you for one thing. I assume that you’ve read this far, and that by doing so you are now at least partially invested in the story of Lazarus, its development, Spilt Milk Studios as a whole and this experiment in particular.

So give me your email address, and follow me on twitter. I promise only to use this power it to get you to help me make Lazarus a success. I’ll owe you a drink, or a hug, or a bit of cake, or a favour. But I need your help.

When the time comes, I’ll call on you through the magic of the internet to support us. To tweet, share, and tell your friends about it. To rant about it for a day, or maybe two. It’s all I ask.

We’re nearly there.

(I originally posted this - and so too all of my blogs - on my tumblr a day earlier. You can also follow me on twitter)

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