In this part of the Explodemon Saga, Explodemon is entered into the IGF, and the decision is made to close Curve Studios.2007 lurched into view, taking the shape of a massive black cloud full of evil pointy things. Very soon after we returned from an uncomfortable Xmas, we four directors sat in the meeting room and looked seriously at the finances. We had the potential of getting work with one publisher, but they were being very indecisive and slowly eating up what time we had left without actually progressing. Our current situation was so obviously screwed that there was only one course of action. We had no money and no work – it was over. The decision was made to see the month out and close Curve at the end of February.
Despite my son’s Feb 14th due date, no pay, probable unemployment and a big tax bill, I actually felt quite relieved. I’d been worrying so very, very hard about the company closing for so long that it felt good to finally have an answer to the question that loomed so large over everything else: what is going to happen? We continued to chase other work, and had managed to secure meagre funding for two artists to create a ‘target render’ for Project X for a publisher, but as I left to go on paternity leave, I was partially expecting not to be able to come back.
It was not to be. Quite literally the day after my son was born we got the go ahead for eight months of next-gen work. It was too large a project for the company as it stood at that time, and we would have to hire extra people to staff it. It was a total reverse of fortune, and just in the nick of time. We would live to develop another day.
With the small matter of our survival postponed for a short while, we could get on with the matter of signing and making games. We amazingly picked up another title a month later, an XBLA game for another developer, so had to expand again. 2007 was turning out to be very fortuitous.
We continued to pitch Explodemon around, and had some more feedback from various sources. One publisher asked their XBLA contact at Microsoft for an unofficial opinion on the likelihood of Explodemon being passed for their service. The feedback he gave, however, was that Explodemon “compared unfavourably” to Cloning Clyde. Not to demean Ninja Bee’s work, but what we were aiming for with Explodemon was a degree of polish and play experience that was an order of magnitude higher, since we were aware that the quality bar was rising in the digital console download space. It seemed we weren’t conveying our message very well, and this was confirmed when that publisher declined to move forward at a later date (they would be back though!). Being busy enough with the games that people were paying us to develop, Explodemon went on the backburner for most of 2007, but the lesson was learned that we needed to step up our pitch.All things Explodemon picked up again when I noticed the news that IGF 2008 would now allow entrants to submit games made with Game Maker. I wasn’t aware that you previously couldn’t, and hadn’t thought of submitting until then, but once I’d read that news I had no choice but to enter! I didn’t expect to win, since the game was far from being a complete experience, but basically thought it couldn’t hurt – why not?
One of the issues we had was that the prototype used sprites (and other assets) that were taken from other games. This was the first thing we had to fix, so we had some of our lovely artists (who are right now working hard on the PlayStation 3 version) model Explodemon and the Vortex enemies, and create the animations needed. These 3D assets were then rendered out as sprites and I butchered the animations by placing them in my prototype. A lot of the 3D models that were created for the IGF build are being used today in the PS3 build.
Aside from the existing two levels shown in a previous post, the build entered into the IGF also relied on the judges playing their way through testbeds that showcased the new mechanics I’d created the summer before, and imagining how those mechanics would be fleshed out into full levels. You can see these testbeds in the following two movies.
The new mechanics were targeted at fattening up the areas of the prototype that we’d found to be the most fun, and strengthening the areas that were weaker. One thing that had emerged was that it was fun to move things around, and puzzles with that as a central mechanic were engaging and HL2-esque-ish. People had problems being accurate when aiming, so I introduced the trajectory system, which predicted where things would move when hit. Different objects were also introduced to bolster the aiming and moving mechanic, such as the magnets, and objects that needed to be placed in certain positions.
I also wanted more strategy in the game, and so chose to attack the player’s ability to effectively control their explosion, shown in the red and blue field testbeds. Taking away the player’s core ability to explode with the blue fields and then forcing them to think laterally has been very successful, and the red fields have been found to have a fun side effect too that will be showcased in the final game.The enemies in the game needed more variety and strategy also. Firstly, I introduced the harmless Stickies, which were inspired by the spiky eyes that stick to Link in Wind Waker and slow his movement. I didn’t want Explodemon to slow down though, and the idea of just exploding when a Sticky was attached didn’t seem that exciting, so I made them prevent you from exploding. I now curse them whenever I come across them thrown into the combat mix in the new levels! Secondly the Rhinos, which made you strategise about how and where to attack them. They are also able to destroy things in areas that you cannot, so they turned out to be an effective puzzle element. Finally, the coloured component allowed me to reuse enemies but with a different strategic twist. Standard enemies could prevent you from gaining health, be indestructible and emit posion when destroyed.
The final additions I’d like to talk about here are the gunships and the bombers. The gunships are a direct rip-off of the helicopters in Half-Life 2. They breathe down your neck from above constantly, are destructive to the environment around you and are a bitch to take down. They force you to use the combat techniques in new ways, and change the tempo of the levels where they’re used. The bombers are also a rip-off, this time of Mario’s Lakitu, behaving very similarly, trying to get above you and rain down bombs. Both these enemies were inspired partially by the Covenant dropships in the Halo series; you really have to invest focused time and effort to bring one down. In amongst the chaos of combat, it forces you to prioritise targets over each other. When you are able to bring one down, the sense of achievement is huge, and I really wanted to replicate that.When the feedback arrived from the IGF judges, I was surprised not at the comments but at the quality. There was a bit of a fuss kicked up this year about the IGF 2010 feedback, but having seen some of it, I think they were lucky to have as much as they did. It was leagues ahead of the single sentence I got back from each judge for IGF 2008.
The first judge had this to say:
The explosion game mechanic was hard to get a sense for. Game otherwise seemed a pretty straightforward side-scroller.
To this day it’s the only person I’m aware of who has not been able to get a grasp of the explosion mechanic, but that’s OK; not everyone is going to go for it. They are correct in that it’s quite straightforward if you take out the defining mechanic. The second judge was more in line with what I was expecting.
Some fun and unusual game mechanics, but not complete enough to be considered as a winner
I certainly agree with it not being complete enough, so I was happy with this. The third judge also seemed to concur.
A well-made and fun take on platforming, the simple physics and movement feel great. I wish the screen was a lot larger — it would be nice to see more than a tiny fragment of the current level.
The screen was indeed too zoomed in during this period, and we’ve since rectified that flaw. I was glad the judge liked it otherwise!
While fun to enter the IGF, it was never a serious endeavour. Having seen how the IGF has grown in stature and found its identity over the past two years, we won’t be entering the IGF again with the PS3 version. Even though we are technically an indie developer, I think the festival should really provide a platform for developers who aren’t able to create one for themselves, for giving publicity to developers that otherwise might struggle. While we are independent and self-funded, we’re fortunate enough these days to be able to afford marketing and PR for Explodemon (more of which you’ll see from us as we get closer to launch). If we were to enter the IGF and become a finalist, I don’t think we’d benefit enough to justify denying a place to someone more worthy, so why enter in the first place?
In the next part of the Explodemon Saga, Curve gains an unlikely development partner, we finally do justice to our artistic vision, and Explodemon is sent through the approval process for XBLA and PSN.