Founder and Creative Director at Infinite Playground, a small independent game development studio based in England. I've come from a background of game modding, helping out several projects on ModDB before deciding to try the Indie Route. I still like to get involved with mods when I have the time!
Posted by stray-shadow on Feb 19th, 2014
Back in 2011 I got together with some modding friends to attempt professional game design. Sadly due to complications with the companies bank account and directors we couldn't all be based in different countries (at least that's what my business account manager told me).
So I bought out the shares of my two friends (as the company was registered in England) and we agreed to carry on with me at the helm.
We carried on working on the game regardless and made some headway before we discovered all of us were essentially broke and couldn't continue working on it. This time we all went off and got other work which delayed that game and eventually we decided to stop working on it for the time being.
After some time I resurrected the company, gave it a logo and a website and started to invest my money into a game!
This game was the beginnings of what would evolve into Mech Mania.
It started off with me creating a bunch of stock assets, a collectible orb with three colour variations for textures, two arena tiles, one for vertical and one for floor with a few textures to break up the monotony. With these and the GDD created I went in search of a programmer.
This was a role I had a lot of trouble filling and would become the bane of the project.
I interviewed a few programmers, many of which were either scammers or genuinely wanted extortionate amounts of money for a small prototype, or in one case ownership of the IP aswell.
Another awesome friend of mine who I had met and University put me in touch with a programmer who seemed to be sane and willing to work for the budget I had. We met and got on really well, he liked the project and we got things going.
I had wanted to work in Unity, but he persuaded me to use XNA, a grave mistake.
I had opted to make the mini-game which would eventually become known in Mech Mania as Survival.
I was still very new to the professional world of game design. Unsure how long programming would take so I fully trusted him. However at each milestone the game was always that little bit further behind.
I attended my first game industry event, the Explay Festival which reaffirmed everything I loved about making games and the game industry. I came back from that filled with a passion that fired me through the rest of the year.
A year later I had arranged for the prototype to be displayed at the next Explay festival, by now the programmers company had fallen apart due to a fallout with his business partner and I had brought him on as a Director... mainly because it meant not having to fork out large sums of money to pay him and that he may finally take an interest in working on the game (another mistake).
On the day I was expecting the prototype to be fully functional, but was handed a broken mess which regularly crashed, had no lighting, no bots and no native controls for the game pads we had. Instead using an emulator which had to be reconfigured each day.
By the end of the festival I convinced him to swap game engines as XNA was not suitable, with Microsoft ditching it and the new consoles just around the courner it seemed very silly so support a dead language.
I gave the options of UDK and Unity, letting him know I didn't know it but a friend of mine was well versed in UDK but it would mean learning Unreal Script. He went with UDK over Unity.
So now we began again, I hadn't used UDK since my degree and ended up taking a back seat for part of the project. Working with my former business partner we produced all of the arenas and remodeled the games characters and props while the programmer got his head around Unreal Script.
While on an industry binge I stumbled across Starter for 10, a competition run by Creative England to pitch for £10,000 of grant money and several months of business mentoring and workshops. I applied for it and was very surprised when I heard back saying we'd made it to the first pitching stage. I prepared a pitch, traveled to the venue and in Dragons Den fashion pitched the game first to two guys from Creative England for feedback and then five minutes later into the main room to pitch at three judges from the creative industry.
Again I made it through! Now came the final pitching event in front of four judges. I'd refined the pitch and now had better visual aids but still worried about my ability to pull this off as until now pitching was new ground for me.
A few days later an e-mail came through inviting me to one final event which I also managed to pass, making it from the final 15 to the final 10!
I'd done it! Got a company running, got the talent to work on a game and now we had the funding and support to get it done! Nothing could stop this from coming to fruition.
Now more mistakes were made!
Originally the plan was to develop my silly mini-games as stand-alone mini-games like Flappy Birds. Each one designed to be very simple but fun and addictive. Using Unity each would be developed over 6 months giving us a steady release rate and some credibility as a company...
Now all of the game modes were merged into one mini-game collection for the PC, targeting Steam for the Big Picture mode and Steam box. This was the complete opposite to the original intentions.
We carried on and before long all of the 3D assets and most of the 2D assets were finished, but the game was yet to rear its head. The programmer gave me updates and assurances but only once during development did he show us anything in-game.
Now the programmer/business partner had wanted most of the £10,000 for himself, even though under the contract signed with Creative England no Directors were allowed to take cash out of it. He however took nearly £6000 and then without warning went of a 3 week holiday to the USA with his girlfriend. At the time I was very ill, also for three weeks and upon getting better discovered from a friend what the programmer had been up to.
The £6000 was intended to keep him working purely on Mech Mania. But again, through a friend, I discovered he had taken on yet more very well paid work and was spending next to no time at all working on MM. When confronted on it (as I ended up doing frequently) it was shrugged off.
Then Explay came round again. Finally we could see and play the game!
Well sort of.
He had promised, and it was in the contract, that he would produce three game modes. I arrived at his house the night before Explay to find he had pretty much just started work on one of the game modes. He told me only one would be ready in time.
What was even more frustrating was watching him code and seeing how quick he was with it. In the next few hours he got it done and we even implemented some changes there and then!
Explay went well, the game mode was well received and turned out to be fun! But half way through the first day my business partner tells me he's going away again later that day and I'm on my own for the next three days.
Following Explay he became ever more difficult to contact. Throughout my time working with him he had been tricky to get hold of, often I'd have to send multiple text messages, facebook, twitter, steam and call him in order to get a response and even then it could take up to three weeks!
Following Explay the engine was changed again (yep I'm good at getting things wrong!) This time I had convinced the programmer to go with Unity which he told me was amazingly easy to work wit hand we could have a full prototype by Christmas! (three months away)
To this day since the Explay festival he has had no contact with me and seems to be living guilt free =/
So I found myself back at square one, with a partly built game in UDK and no programmer. I contacted a few people to see if we could get the UDK version finished rather than starting again in Unity and managed to get an old friend to make a bit of headway before he had to drop it for other work.
I approached another friend of mine, a talented programmer with a knowledge of Unity. Things started off well, assets were ported and we quickly had almost daily updates on game progress!
Finally we could see the game taking shape in front of us! Finally someone who responded when contacted, the excess stress evaporated and things really started moving.
I had decided to show off the game in Tablet form at The Wild Rumpus in London, the game went from not existing to working prototype in just four weeks! In four weeks we had something fully playable on PC and tablet.
We had a new release date, going for late April (two years after the original April deadline of the XNA single game mode).
With things finally looking up for the project I'd relaxed a bit and began planning out the rest of development and marketing for the future.
The out of nowhere the programmer tells us he no longer wants to work on the game and severs all communication. After contacting him he refused to hand over the files created so far, instead holding them to ransom.
Now we find ourselves right back at the beginning. We have a pile of art assets and no functionality.