Candy Raid: The Factory is a top-down pixel-art puzzle game created by two men and a contractor - Kayne Ruse is a long-time indie game developer, but this was his first steam release, and his first “big project” in a while. Evan Hartshorn is an artist with coding skills - a rarity these days. Luis Paez is a bit of a mystery to the other two, but he supplied the music and sound effects, for a fee.
Kayne and Evan first met by chance in a popular discord server called Game Dev Underground, just before the beginning of Ludum Dare 41 in April 2018. They were each looking for someone to cover their weak points - Kayne had extensive programming and design skills, while Evan had fantastic artistic talent. They cooked up the design of a puzzle game called “Candy!” just before the theme was announced, and decided to fit the concept to the theme.
It turns out, the theme of “Combine Two Incompatible Genres” really couldn’t be covered by their simple puzzle game. Nonetheless, they submitted it with copyright-free music, and to everyone’s great surprise, they received a high ranking - 72nd in the fun category. After a few days, Kayne contacted Evan and proposed that they turn Candy! into a fully fledged game, and release it.
They rebuilt the game from the ground up - changing everything from mechanics to sprite art, while maintaining the core “soul” of the game. The only asset that carried over was the main character Candy the Witch’s sprite sheet.
They planned out four areas for the game - The Gumdrop Gardens, the Lava Kitchens, The Frozen Warehouse (which became the Frozen Vaults) and the Evil Offices. They would spend four months working on the game, dividing the tasks up into periods of 20 days, after which they would assess their progress. At one point, it became clear that a boss fight in the Evil Offices simply didn’t match the core of the rest of the game, so the entire area was dropped to allow for more time to develop the Frozen Vaults.
The pair decided that Candy Raid: The Factory - as it came to be named - would be a Halloween themed game due to the witch character and the setting of a candy factory. As such, the release date was set to October 1st - a whole month after the scheduled code freeze.
The game was finished, packaged, and ready for release. A free web demo was uploaded to the website, they received a glowing review from a small gaming site, and those that played it loved it. The release button sat tantalizingly for a month…
Then release came. And went. The pair had been hyping the game to their friends and on various forums, but after the first week post release, it was clear that there would be no major payout - no payout at all in the first two months and counting. The game had sold a grand total of 14 copies - not even enough to pass Steam’s minimum payout threshold. Candy Raid: The Factory was a critical success, but a commercial failure.
We originally released the game for $12 USD - quite a high price, since GDU’s founder suggested that higher prices suggest higher quality, thus higher sales. We didn’t even release with a discount. We reduced the price to $5 the first chance we got, but it was already too late.
That’s just one of many mistakes we made, but I don’t think a lower price at launch would have helped anyway. Steam is not a tool for visibility, and being a practical nobody in the gaming world, I couldn’t really raise hype for it. The number of wishlists currently sits at 160, which is awesome, but I don’t know the first step to getting them to actually buy the game.
We, or I should say I, rejected every request for free steam keys, mostly because the emails were blatantly scams. If I rejected a legitimate one, that almost certainly hurt sales too. I know people want to play the game, because I managed to give away quite a few copies for free recently, they just don’t want to pay for it.
The game itself also has weaknesses. The first area was designed first, and used as a demo - I now know why Nintendo leaves it’s first levels until last to develop. I wish I could go back and change some things knowing what I know now. We also only have a static image as the main menu, and no pause menu - the escape key simply closes the game.
The third area is the weakest design-wise. I wish I had used raycasting for the light puzzles, so the light puzzles could interact with the ice walls in a logical way. Hacking the fog system to fake it didn’t work. As a result, the light puzzles can be passed over entirely, and the third area really suffered design-wise as a result.
The 1 month wait before release was excruciating, because we could’ve been working on the game - polishing it beyond what it’s at now. I won’t be doing that again. We also paid for 4 songs, 1 for each area. Since we dropped an area, that’s $100 USD that was “wasted”. I’m not even sure where that song is right now...
Anyway, enough negativity - WE RELEASED A COMMERCIAL GAME! That’s more than what most people can say.
I really enjoyed working on the game. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but I loved every minute of it, because I felt like a real game developer running my own studio - something I’ve wanted since I was a child. Designing each puzzle, and utilizing each mechanic in new and inventive ways pushed me to my mental limit. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
I built the website myself, using React - something I’m quite proud of. I used it to host a landing page, a press kit, the demo and later the original prototype. The prototype and demo are still live, so you can see the difference:
Also, at some point Evan made this beautiful abomination: https://candyraid.com/sugarcrash (there’s supposed to be a HUD…)
We were very lucky to get that URL.
At the end of it all, I now have a business bank account, an ABN (Australian Business Number), and a real actually legally recognized game development studio, KR Game Studios. I also have a friend, business partner and artist in Evan. I’m not sure how Evan feels about having to work under my banner...
What Went Well
Choosing to work with a programmer instead of going solo vastly increased the range of potential games I could make. Kayne was super-motivated, super-understanding, and drove the project forward to completion. If I want to proceed to bigger and better things, team-ups seem like the reasonable way to go.
Unity as a basis also worked well. I was able to tweak things and make changes as necessary despite my lack of expertise. Kayne may well disagree with the goodness of my doing this.
Kayne turned out to have a knack for level design.
What Went Less Well
Neither of us had a knack for UX. We did not implement proper menus, including pausing.
I had a major depressive streak and lost focus several times during the execution. I cannot say how much the depression was tied to the development or not, but it has driven major changes in my philosophy of art which should improve the quality of my work hereafter.
Communication was a massive problem. As it turns out, normal people (and even most abnormal people) cannot read my mind, and therefore do not know that I intend interior wall tiles, or what the significance of a given line of red pixel might be, and it is helpful to be excruciatingly explicit about the intention of even tiny and apparently insignificant details lest your level designer build an entire series of rooms without wall interiors.
I also allowed myself to be pushed around a little. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been depressed if I made clear from the start that I was less interested in making a game without badass action sequences. Or perhaps not. I was undergoing medical changes at the time, so it’s hard to say.
Promotion went poorly. I believe part of the problem is I allowed myself to be pushed into making a game I didn’t care too much for. Thus, it was hard for me to give it the promotion it deserved. If you like Ford, maybe doing voiceover ads for Chevy trucks is not your best line of work, regardless of how good the truck in question is.
What I learned
If I intend to continue making video games, it is better for me to team up than try to fly solo. I do need to be a bit more of a dick and throw my weight around so that I can ensure that the project is one I care deeply enough about that I will be completely unconflicted when pimping it out. I also need to get in the habit of exhaustively documenting what my art is and how it is meant to be used so that my partners in crime either don’t misuse it, or at least misuse it on purpose because they think the effect is worthwhile.
Candy Raid: The Factory is available via steam here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/868880/Candy_Raid_The_Factory/
If you’d like to play the demo, you can find it here:
Evan’s art can be found here:
Evan streams from time to time here: