Even though I only became aware of the term “indie game” last year, I’ve actually been familiar with the concept for quite some time. In fact, I probably made my first indie game around 10 years ago. In this post, I’ll be discussing the three games I’ve made, the kind of games that I would like to make going forward, and some ideas for games that I intend to make going forward.
Dealer management game
So back in high school, we were taught how to program in Java as part of the computer science curriculum. I used what I had learnt to make a very simple text based drug dealing management simulation (my teacher must have been beaming with pride). Disclaimer: I don’t condone illicit substance use, manufacturing, distribution, or any related activity. If you are a gamer, you probably already understand that there is a massive difference between the fictional pretend world of games and the actual world that we live in (an idea that the popular media seems to have trouble understanding, but that is a topic for another day). Anyway, in my game, you could buy product in bulk, and hire dealers to distribute it for you. It had a nice management feel to it, with trying to balance expenses such as buying product, hiring dealers, paying the wages of existing dealers, and dealing with random events such as dealers being caught or killed. Don’t get hung up on the drugs part though, it might as well have been a cake dealing simulation (although that would made the game slightly less interesting, in addition to making it hard to explain why the “salesmen” were getting arrested and killed so often).
So a little while later, I was ready to make something with some simple two dimensional graphics. Back then, I was still using Java, since we didn’t have all this nice game development software (i.e. Gamemaker, Unity, etc.) that we have today. Either that, or I didn’t know it existed. I came up with my own variation of the original Lunar Lander game. Mine was slightly different, in that you had a military rank, and got promoted every time you successfully landed your craft on the planet – you could go all the way from Recruit to General. Higher ranks meant less fuel to land with, which systematically increased the challenge. If you crashed, you went all the way back to the Recruit difficulty. Unfortunately the game had a surprising amount of bugs, which was quite an achievement considering that it wasn’t an especially complicated game.
After my space lander game, I didn’t make games for a long time. I still played games though, and often had ideas about games that would be cool to make. Eventually, last year, an indie game called Gunpoint was released, which I loved. The developer spoke at length about how he went about making the game, and how he used Gamemaker to do it. It got me motivated to make something again, and I decided to buy Gamemaker to start developing something again.
I’ve always liked the idea of an endurance driving game, where the focus is more on management of various components and parameters as opposed to pure racing. Something that always annoys me when I’m playing racing simulations, is that you can fit, for example, a massive turbo without upgrading the cooling system, and somehow this does not negatively affect the reliability of the car. So the first game I made in Gamemaker, was a driving “simulation” where the focus was not purely on racing, but rather on managing the upgrades of your car. It is a 2D side-scrolling two player game, which is actually so complicated that I suspect most people would be put off it immediately, especially since there is no in-game tutorial. You drive in a straight line, and the only skill involved in terms of driving is how much power you apply, and braking for pit-stops. But as I said, that is not what the game is about, the skill relates to managing and upgrading your car.
There are several parameters to keep track of, including fuel, fuel consumption, heat, weight, cooling, and so on. As you travel, you earn money, which can be used to refuel, repair, and upgrade your car in pit-stops. Some upgrades have benefits and drawbacks. For example, if you upgrade your engine size, it would make the car more powerful, but less economical in terms of fuel consumption. Likewise, turbo upgrades result in increased heat generated by the engine. Eventually, you would have to buy additional upgrades to offset negative effects of other upgrades (such as an improved cooling system, better brakes, weight reduction, improved fuel consumption, and so on). Unfortunately the game was far from being finished. It would need loads more polish to be complete, it had no sound, a non-intuitive interface, and very basic graphics and animation.
Going forward: The type of games I would like to make
The kind of games that I am interested in making usually involves simulating and managing certain constructs, statistics, and/or physics. I like to create my own little world, with it’s own rules, where the player must find the best way to “master” the environment. I also like the idea of roguelike games, where the world is slightly randomized every time, you can quickly develop your character, but death is fairly common and permanent. Lastly, I love the idea of emergent gameplay, and if possible I would like to make this part of the games I develop.
I’m interested in making a game where you have to manage a team of AI controlled racing drivers. You would start with a small budget, which you would have to use to buy a car and recruit a driver. Drivers would have a range of stats, which would quickly improve as they gain experience. As they improve and start performing well in races, you would be able to enter them into more high profile races resulting in more funding from sponsors. If they crash, they could get injured, requiring time for them to recover, potentially having a negative impact on their stats. In some severe cases, crashes could also result in death, which would mean that you lose that driver permanently. Drivers’ stats (such as skill, reaction time, heart-rate, fatigue, etc.) would also have to be monitored during races. Certain situations could organically arise, for example: If a driver is constantly tailgated by another driver, it could elevate his heart-rate, which would make him stressed and more prone to make mistakes. However, if the has stats that allows him to stay cool under pressure, he would be less likely to be affected by this.
How hard making this game will be all depends on how I approach it. The easy way would be to simply build a simulation that doesn’t actually let you see the races. You enter someone for the race, and find out what happened afterwards, or get text based updates. The hard way is actually simulating the races with actual cars racing each other. I will probably attempt the former first. The latter is something that I might try after I’ve had much more experience with Gamemaker.
Gravity Based Planet Mining Game
Please excuse the title for now, I will come up with a more imaginative title for this game if I do get around to making a version that people will actually enjoy playing. The idea is that you have a small space ship which you use to explore a universe of (potentially randomly generated) planets of different sizes and densities, consequently resulting in different gravitational forces. Thrust, gravity, and orbiting will be similar to how it is in real life, although obviously not as complex. You would start on your home planet, where you can buy fuel and upgrades, and then fly around to other planets to mine minerals that can be sold. You can also establish bases and drill for fuel on other planets as you start to progress through the universe. Small crashes would result in damage to the ship, while big crashes would result in death, meaning you would have to start the game over again. However, you would be able to advance in the game and upgrade your ship quite quickly, so as to ensure that the permanent death is not too frustrating.
I’m actually starting work on this game today, by familiarizing myself with Gamemaker’s built in physics engine, which I’ve never used before.
Developments After 2AM
I’ve decided to call my development studio (by which I mean my spare bedroom), Developments After 2 AM. I thought it would be appropriate given the odd hours of the night I usually use for game development. It’s hard to say when I will have a playable version of one of these games ready. With my full time job I have to rely on some evenings and weekends to work on games. Even so, I’m hoping to have something ready by the end of April.