Fall of Angels is a JRPG currently available for iOS. An updated and expanded port is being developed for PC; a demo is available for download from our website. With Fall of Angels we wanted to blend a story driven adventure with puzzles and exploration, so we have filled the game with tools to use, first-person interactive puzzles, abilities to learn, and multiple game modes.
I face a dilemma. Well, not really a dilemma. It's one of those times like lighting your own farts on fire to impress a group of girls, or smelling your finger. You know that there's a potential for debate there, a choice with pros and cons attached to each course of action, but at the same time you know you've already made up your mind. It's better to sniff and regret than to always wonder if this time around it smelled differently to the last.
I forget what my point was.
Porting. Fall of Angels has been out on the iPhone for quite a while now, and it's received great feedback from the people that have played it- but not as many sales as I had hoped. I didn't have aspirations for millions (though of course it would be nice), just enough to enable the development of the next game. Or enough to afford socks. Looking at the options, I don't have a team of artists willing to work for me for free, so Final Fantasy 13 quality graphical prowess showboating is not on the cards. I don't have a marketing budget beyond wearing my ‘Fall of Angels' t-shirts around town. But I believe in this game, I really do, and nothing in my life so far have I been so passionate about. I want to keep going with Fall.
So what about porting Fall of Angels to another platform? I had wanted to see if it took off on iPhone first, and the financial repercussions for time spent working on it are a concern. It theory I should get an office job and get a steady income again.
In theory I should stop quoting Doctor Who in bars too, but if I did that where would I be now? Not single probably. But the day a girl recognizes one of these quotes, and finds my tourettes-level discourse to be endearing, is the day that I'll look back on and forever wish that I didn't ask that girl to smell my finger.
So I reckon I'm going to do it, beginning with a PC port. It'll be more time spent being poor, and it's not guaranteed to pay off, but damn it I enjoy doing it and hopefully it will lead to the next game.
If anyone else has had any similar experiences, do tell- I'd love to hear how it went!
Read Part 1 here.
A few weeks after our angel encounter, the trip came to an end at our friend's house in Ohio. The plan was for me to make my way back to Boston by Greyhound bus, and fly home to England from there. The Greyhound station was nowhere near my friend's house though, and the bus left early in the morning... so she kindly dropped me off at the station the afternoon in order to give herself enough time to get home before bed. This left me with half a day before the bus departed on a 14 hour journey.
There wasn't a chance in hell that I was going to risk falling asleep, or leaving the relative safety of the bus station without a tank. I didn't have any books with me because it wasn't 1873, but I also didn't have a laptop with me because it wasn't 2010, so instead I decided that the best way to make it through 26 hours of alone time was to buy an A4 notepad and a pencil and design that rpg that I'd always wanted to make. I also began what would become a long standing addiction to coffee. The previous 3 months of summer camp and travelling had left me with endless inspiration for an adventure, and that night in the storm- the over-religious town, the angel looming over us emotionless- all became inspiration for the setting. Fragments of story ideas I'd had over the years combined with trope subversions. I wondered which characters I would like to take such a journey with, and gave them form. The shadow that the angel cast covered the world and its history, and as mystery after mystery led to a plot resolution I realised that the time had disappeared.
When I got back to England I tried to write the game, but university and then work got in the way. I made a demo of the first hour or so of gameplay, which unfortunately won't run on modern computers. It became relegated to a pipe-dream for 10 years. The story evolved and elements were added to it over time. Every time I went running, every time I was out for a walk, every time I was in the bath I would play the story and characters out in my head, and over time I knew the world and its characters inside out. I even knew what the trailers for each chapter would play out like. I always wondered if I'd ever actually get to make it.
It wasn't until a career change 10 years after the night in Ohio that I decided to become an indie developer and finally make Fall of Angels come alive.
I'm currently playing 'Resident Evil: Revelations' on the 3DS, and it's a great return to form for the series. There are a few questionable design choices that I can't quite get my head around, such as having a completely useless AI companion all of the time which removes the sense of lonely isolation (actually I do understand, someone spent months doing the AI for them so they'd better be used in the final game dammit). But I'm having loads of fun and I'd fully recommend it to anyone.
By coincidence I was talking to a friend recently about the Thief series. As far as I'm concerned, the three Thief games are amongst the most underrated games ever made. I absolutely adore them. The characters and setting are wonderful, the gameplay is perfectly balanced and nuanced, and the world is immersive and detailed in exactly the right way- you can complete a level and still miss most of it. Every time you play through you'll find something new, every time you go off the beaten track to explore you find a place that you didn't even know was there. It rewards a clever player, not just because it hides so many of its wonders to encourage you to look for them, but also in its gameplay. It doesn't hand-hold you, it doesn't simplify itself for you, and if you play on the highest difficulty setting- which you always darn well should- then the only way that you can succeed is through skilful thieving, imaginative use of the environment, and perfect timing.
Which is perhaps why they are cult classics and not a huge commercial success. Unfortunately not everyone wants to be rewarded for skill and out of the box thinking, a lot of people just want to shut off in front of the computer. Seeing the Thief games in the bargain bin just 6 months after release breaks my heart. Anyway, anyone that has played the Thief games knows exactly where that segue from Resident Evil to Thief came from.
The Cradle is a level in Thief: Deadly Shadows that terrified me in a way that only one other game has ever been able to. I played it in the early hours of the morning on my own in the dark, and on one occasion it actually caused me to scream out loud and smash the 'off' button on my PC repeatedly with my fist to make it all stop. The level is pure genius, and Thief isn't even a survival-horror game. It has been bettered only by one other game series- the indie game series Penumbra.
My sweet lord, I swear those games shortened my lifespan by a few decades. As far as scary survival horror is concerned, the Penumbra games are the benchmark to beat- I love my Resident Evils and Silent Hills and these games have enjoyed more commercial success, but they don't even hold a flickering torch to Penumbra. I wont describe them, because either a) you've played them already or b) you should go and download them right now and play them. Like the Thief games, the Penumbra series SHOULD be amongst the most popular games of all time but are instead cult classics, so you can pick them up for a low price giving nobody any excuse but to play these masterpieces.
Fall of Angels is a role-playing adventure game that I developed for the iPhone along with artist Lee Pattison. It was released in November 2011, and since then it has been receiving great feedback- we're just hoping for enough commercial success now so that we can continue to make games. Fall of Angels has a longer history than that though.
I got into programming for the sole purpose of one day making games. I studied Computer Science at high school and then university, all the while doing extra curricular games development to learn the ropes. After my first year at university studying Computer Science, I went to work as a Camp Counsellor at a summer camp in Massachusetts with the Camp America program.
In England everything is much more tightly packed than in America, so the wide open spaces, the forests, the mountains, long open stretches of road- they were all things that I'd never seen outside of video games and movies. It was my first major trip away from home, and the sense of adventure was intoxicating. The camp ground was set in the mountain forests by a lake, and the cabins that we lived in were grouped around one edge of the water. You couldn't pick a more idyllic spot, or one that looked more akin to a mountain village from any Tolkien-esque world. Having grown up as a kid playing Zelda and wishing that I could live in the tree village from 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves', I was in heaven.
After camp I took a car with some friends (including a girl from Ohio who was dating my friend at the time) and explored the East coast of America. We slept in a tent at the State park camp grounds dotted around the map, travelled from town to town exploring the local monuments, not knowing where the next destination would take us. For someone who grew up on adventure games, it was the closest I'd ever get to a real life adventure.
One night at a camp ground in Virginia, we got a warning from the park warden that a storm was on it's way and that we ought to seriously consider staying in a hotel that night. To the English, a storm means a bit of light rain and an inconvenient wind so we dismissed the warning at first. What actually came was a force of nature the likes of which we'd only seen on TV, forcing us to quickly throw the tent in the trunk of the car and drive away to find a motel as quickly as we could before things got seriously dangerous. Torrential rain pounded the roads and forests around us, and winds ripped up trees and threw them across fields. In addition to the storm it was getting late, and by the time we'd found a town of any kind it was pitch black. The darkness combined with the poor visibility caused by the storm meant that we couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of the car.
The town we drove into was small and made up of old battered wooden buildings. The first hotel we tried was a poorly maintained and musty run-down place. Inside entryway that acted as the reception there was a bible on the front desk, and crosses up on all the walls alongside framed quotes from various religious passages. Behind the desk sat the creepiest old man imaginable, who unbelievably made the stereotypical comments that you'd expect about 'how far we are away from home', and not getting many visitors 'round these parts. By this point we were already on edge and this whole town was straight out of a horror movie, so we quickly hurried back to the car and sped off, carrying on along the only road through town as fast as we could. The road ahead split into a fork, but due to the dark and the rain we wouldn't realise this until the very last second; there was a scream of profanities as we slammed the breaks on, and the car skidded to a halt just a few feet away from the grass verge in the middle of the fork. We sat there silent, the only sound being the thunderstorm battering the roof of the car. Directly ahead in the middle of the fork, illuminated by our headlights through the dark and the rain, was a fifteen foot statue of an angel looming over us with an expressionless face and its arms held wide. It was the single largest statue of an angel I have ever seen, and the image of it is still emblazoned in my memory. Everyone in the car screamed unprintable words, we slammed on the gas and swerved down one of the forks and didn't stop till we hit a free-way with well-lit roadside motels.
There's a word that sends shivers down my spine. Monetization. Not because of the principle- for many of us game development is also our only source of income and we need to eat, which means we all need some form of monetization in our lives. No, I dislike the word because of the kind of people that use it.
Easyjet is one of many budget airlines in the UK that advertise things such as 'Amsterdam for only 50p!!!!'. Cool. You click on the bit that says 'yes please', and go to the next screen. Here they tell you that they need to add on airport tax. And fuel tax. And BWC tax**. Luggage allowance. What's that, your luggage is larger than a grapefruit? Add an extra baggage charge. Why not pay extra for priority boarding? We've overbooked your flight, so it's the only way you can guarantee you won't be duct-taped to the wing for the duration of the journey. The final checkout is closer to £80. Now that is still a good price- it's certainly cheaper than travelling to a town 3 miles away with Satan's personal rail-road company 'East Midland Trains'. But they said that it costs 50p, KNOWING DAMN WELL THAT IT DOESN'T.
For me, THAT is what monetization insinuates. It is a buzzword used by corporate money-grabbing types, like 'leveraging', 'synergy', and 'mortgage backed securities'.
In-app purchases or DownLoadable Content can be wonderful things, providing new or optional experiences for a small fee. The players get something fun, and over time the developer earns that much needed extra £79.50. Many devs use these frameworks legitimately in the spirit that they were intended***. It needs pointing out that I fully support the proper use of these frameworks- but then people that use them properly don't use the word 'monetization'.
The big companies that lock EXISTING content on the game that you just bought and then force you to pay them AGAIN in order to unlock it? They use the 'M' word. There are first-person shooters that stone-cold charge you to unlock different skins for your weapons. You pay them in order to color your gun in a shade of red. CoD: World at War featured a fun extra zombie mode for free- CoD: Black Ops released the same mode two years later as a $15 add-on. (Cracked did a great article on this kind of abuse: Cracked.com).
Perhaps a dev might release a free version of a game, with the option to pay for further episodes. That's a great idea, it gives the player control over how much they spend and how much they play. That's great.
But then there are armies of soulless development houses abusing that idea, by marketing their game as free- free that is, until the first boss who can't be beaten unless you pay for an certain weapon using DLC. Fine, it's only small change. Then the same happens on the next boss. And the next. You can technically level-up yourself, but it would take an unreasonable 5-6 hours of grinding.... or you can just pay them for an item that does it instantly. Before you know it, you've paid the same as a full-price title and only got a few hours gameplay in return. That isn't the same as legitimately making additional chapters DLC as advertised up-front. But you didn't need to buy the DLC they shout! It's optional! No, it isn't. Technically possible to proceed without it does not equal reasonably possible.
This practice is dishonest and manipulative. This is what the word 'monetization' conjures up in my head. There's another word for it- lying. I have a third word for it, but nobody what's to hear it.
It's personally galling with my own game 'Fall of Angels'. For half the price of a frappuccino, it provides 10-15 hours of gameplay, which is fair. But in the app store, it's sandwiched between mass produced games by big publishers that all say FREE next to them. Sure, it costs you twice as much as Fall just to get an hour into the game, but by then it's too late- any game with a small genuine price tag already looks costly next to the dishonest 'FREE' labels. Yes, I could do the same and lie to my players about the real cost of playing, but I don't want to. And I shouldn't have to.
There are plenty of people- mostly indie devs of course- that use these frameworks in a positive, honest way. Please understand that I'm not lumping them in with the money-grabbers. To them, I salute you. To the money-grabbers that abuse the system in order to cheat their players out of cash- congratulations, you've soiled the word monetization and you're taking the East Midlands train directly to hell.
* It pleases me to find that my spell checker doesn't consider 'leveraging' to be a real word. Neither do I my friend. Neither do I.
** BWC tax is a British tax that stands for 'Because we can'. It's put on things arbitrarily when a minister needs a new Mercedes.
*** Let's give the likes of Microsoft and Apple the benefit of the doubt and assume that they had good intentions when they unleashed these frameworks on unsuspecting gamers.
There are a number of troublesome issues that face independent developers, some of which you don't see coming until they are upon you. One of them is scorn from the various individuals that you don't particularly care for, but are forced to interact with regardless. “When are you getting a proper job?” is a question that always makes my inner voice howl in impotent rage, and often comes from the mid-life crisis uncle with his new earring and clothes only suitable for people in their late teens. Another is the belief held by others that working for yourself=flexible hours=you're free all day to run errands for them. Newsflash- I work harder and longer hours than your entire family combined, so fetch your own damned groceries.
Another interesting problem is deciding on a place of work.
There are some things that I don't miss about working in an office. That one guy who clicks his pen while he thinks. The guy who chews with his mouth open at his desk. Mr. Social that sits across from you but still asks you questions via email. That crazy witch that needs the AC on 40°C and complains about harassment if you tell her to leave the dial alone before you break her legs. But some things I do miss, such as having people to talk to, free food in the fridge with nothing but a name label to protect them, and the opportunity to talk to the members of the fairer sex that are not related to me. Now I'm not a womaniser by any means, oh no. It still takes me 3 months to pluck up the courage to send a girl a note saying 'do u lik me, plz circle yes no maybe '. However when your sole interaction with women is through the internet, problems and misconceptions will inevitably arise, so workplace friendships are nice and healthy.
Anyway, in lieu of an office where does one work when you're an indie developer? The spare bedroom is great, but a little unambitious. Working in the spare bedroom (or mum's basement) fulfils the criteria of an uncomfortable stereotype, which though largely accurate is still one that I'd rather pretend is not true. The spare bedroom also shares a wall with our delightful neighbours, and as I type this the mother is screaming at her kids for stealing her cigarettes to sell at school and their pit bull terriers are angrily barking like they're about to maul some more members of the neighbourhood. So let's take venture outside.
The park would be nice, but my Dell laptop suspiciously stopped running on battery power 3 minutes after my warranty expired. The garden shed has a power outlet though, and I remember many an hour spent programming in there. I can look out of the window at nature, and it smells nicely of wood. Mmmmm. A few hours in, and the drawbacks of this rustic location are becoming clear- namely in the form of a thousand pigeons that infest our garden, cooing over and over and over. Ooo ooooooooo OO. SHUT UP. I try throwing rocks at them to scare them away, but unfortunately I throw like a little girl, so I give up.
I tried coffee shops for a time. There's something very pretentious and hipster-ish about using your laptop in a coffee shop, but I'm not using iTunes or twitter so I think I'm in the clear. The coffee is good too, but just don't spill a coconut latte on your laptop; the liquid doesn't do it any favours and the sugar in the drink then coats the innards causing permanent damage and an uncomfortable discussion with your manager at IBM. Probably. The cost soon racks up too. Those fancy coffees don't come cheap, and there are only so many hours that you can stay there nursing the same drink before the barrista takes issue with you hogging the comfy sofa seats.
I also tried a pub. Some chains have free wi-fi! Have you ever tried working on a laptop in a pub at 9am? I was surprised to find that most people that are in a pub that early on a weekday are not always the most supportive of one's endeavours. In addition to my societal worth and sexual orientation, they also have very vocal opinions regarding the latest sporting events, though these opinions usually revolve around some sportsman or other being run over by a bus for failing to perform to the expectations of my new inebriated chums. On the plus side, Pina Coladas- the working man's drink of choice- are readily available in a pub, however I can't help but feel that this is exactly how the other people in the room started out.
I tried the library, the train station, and even a supermarket car-park, all with unsatisfactory results.
So I finally settled on the kitchen. It's slightly more ambitious- according to my own unspecified criteria- than just working in a bedroom, and it's relatively sheltered from the horrid family next door. I work at our kitchen table all day now, and snack on all the food, and then go running in a guilt-fuelled attempt to stave off the increased calorie intake. Hey, I need to keep in shape- the chances of a real-life woman knocking on our door to sell me something are slim, so if it does ever happen I'll need to make it count.
When developing maps/levels for games, the thought that I always bear in the back of my mind is 'has this been done before?'. I think that it's perhaps the second most important thing in games design (number one being actually making the level fun). Now as the saying goes, there's nothing new under the sun- I'm not suggesting that games designers should aim to redefine the games industry with every level. Just at least enough to have the player go "ooh, cool". Sometimes it's an entirely different style of play, sometimes it's a one-time gimmick, sometimes it's just a different kind of scenery to the map before it. Whatever it is, however big or small, I believe the player should constantly be seeing or doing something interesting and engaging, something new. No part of a game should be filler.
We're all creatures of habit to varying degrees. An established franchise often sells well regardless of the content, in part because consumers know roughly what to expect. How often do we see this abused though- soulless movie tie ins, conveyor belt sequels, and genre saturation. It's made even more sad when games like Ico become cult classics rather than the wide-reaching commercial successes that they deserve to be.
I think this is where indie developers come in, and why sites like indieDB excite me so much. The games industry as a whole- like Hollywood before it- could do with an injection of originality, and indie developers are becoming more and more the source of that originality. We often don't have the resources or manpower to create movie-quality special effects in our games, and we don't have big name licenses to trade on. This may have it's downsides (EA don't have to choose between funding adverts or buying food), but what it does do is free us to try new ideas and our independence allows us to take risks. The temptation to create a glorified graphics demo and call it a game is significantly less for us, because we need to appeal to gamers from a different angle i.e. we need to make games that are fun.
My sincere hope is that the future of the games industry continues to make it easier and easier for indie games to reach their audience through distribution methods such as Desura and the mobile app stores. That could only mean good things for people who enjoy games.
Hi, I'm new to indieDB and I thought I would share my story on how I ended up here.
I started playing video games when I was a kid. I would join the crowds watching each other playing Super Mario Bros. at the arcade, and I was mesmerised. I played myself a few times, and managed to fall down the first hole on 1-1 every. single. time. Don't ask me how, I could barely dress myself at that age let alone work out the intricate complexities of the SMB control system. Not too long after that, I got my first taste of making my own games- my friends and I would play Zelda on our back gardens. One of us (Link) would wait inside while the others hid junk around the garden- a glove, a piece of wood that represented a raft, a little mirror... we'd create our own puzzles utilizing the hidden items, and then 'Link' would come outside and solve the puzzles. The puzzle creators would jump out every now and then and pretend to be monsters, and 'Link' would fight them. We were the cool kids, and everybody knew it.
Fast-forward some years to when I was 18, and I had an overnight stopover in a Ohio bus station followed by a 14 hour bus ride. I didn't fancy sleeping in the bus station and then waking up minus my shoes and/or kidneys, so I bought a notepad and a pencil and spent the time designing my own RPG. Six months prior to that I had become obsessed with Final Fantasy VIII (your mileage may vary on it, but it floated my boat). After finishing it I thought “hey I bet I could program something like that”, so I did. I made a brief demo of the RPG that I'd designed in the bus station, and I was pretty proud of it. Then university got in the way, and work after that. Before I knew it nature had took it's course and I was climbing the corporate ladder, hurrah!
I always wanted to finish that game. For 10 years I nursed that idea, adding elements to it, altering characters, dreaming up story sequences in my head. But I always knew the idea of making my own game was unrealistic- you can't just make a game without having your own developer studio. Plus I'd have to quit my job to do it, and that's a huge financial risk. Chances are it wouldn't work out anyway.
Eventually I took a look at myself one day, and decided that enough was enough. I couldn't live in the rat race without knowing if I could have made it as a games developer. I had so many ideas, so much that I wanted to do, and I would always always always wonder whether or not it would have worked out. So I quit. I left my house in London and my consultancy job, put away the suits, hung up my ties, and went back to live in my Mum's spare bedroom to beaver away developing my game. I quit my high flying big city job to live the dream at my mums house.
Did it work out? No idea yet. At first I made some iPhone apps to get a bit of revenue before starting my game. After that I settled down to what was simultaneously the most fun and the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Now after a year of ridiculous hours and no social life whatsoever, 'Fall of Angels' is finally out.
The rest of the story hasn't happened yet.