The day is finally here; Splinter Zone will be complete and out in just a few hours from now. When I sat down and decided to make this game, I had no idea if I would actually be able to do this. Though I've made some smaller games before, I was still pretty inexperienced in any field related to game development. I couldn't code, I couldn't do sound effects all that well (I'm still awful at it), and don't let me start about my ability to do "art". All I knew was that making games was fun to me and that I wanted to try and see if I can maybe turn this into a way to earn some money.
It's certainly been an interesting and strange journey. I grew as a person and I grew as a game developer. I made a lot of mistakes and spend a lot of time on elements that I ended up completely scrapping from the game. So let me take you on a quick journey through the past 19 months of my life and let me show you how the version of Splinter Zone, which you'll soon be able to play, came into being:
I started work on Splinter Zone in December 2015. Its working title back then was "endless Rachel" ("Endless" because it's sort of an endless platformer, and "Rachel" was the name I gave the character sprite.*). I remember having huge trouble finding a good run animation for this sprite. Here's one of the several "final" iterations I made:
In early January I created a completely new sprite and immediately managed to make a much better (yet still not perfect) animation for it:
One recurring theme through Splinter Zone's development was me trying to figure out how to make good explosions. I actually thought those wimpy first attempts were good enough.
Fun fact: In January 2016 I planned to release the final version of Splinter Zone in April of the same year. However, my hopes of releasing the game in until then were quickly crushed, once I realize that creating the graphics and enemies for a whole area took me several weeks. At least parts of the game started to look a bit better...
I also managed to improve the explosions by quite a bit. It was May already and I started to feel somewhat proud of what I did here:
Most of spring and summer of 2016 was spend figuring out what exactly I want to do with this game. At one point I had a system in there that rewarded players with "upgrades" if they managed to beat a certain score several times in a row. It was my idea of the "Administrator" in the game rewarding the players for being compliant. I had a whole thing planned out, where you could either do what the game told you to do, or try and resist it and depending on what you did, you would access to different things. However it was too complicated for me to pull it off in a way where I felt happy with it. So I got rid of it.
After showing the game at the Radius Festival in July 2016, I went ahead and changed a bunch of stuff again. In August of 2016 I made an "upgrade system", where the game would give you different modifications for your weapon that greatly influence how it would behave. I'm still using some bits of it, for Splinter Zone's final, linear progression system, but I got rid of most of the more complex stuff, mostly because I couldn't figure out how to explain the existence of these mods within the game.**
I also updated the character sprite to what was going to be the final version.
I actually took a fairly substantial break from working on the game, between late September and early November. Partially because I had to renovate my Apartment and just didn't had the time to work on the game properly, but also because I've found myself in creative slump. It was time to figure out a way to wrap up this game, but I was still looking for good way to actually make the thing I had in mind all the time. I had all these assets and interactions, but there was no purpose to them, just a bunch of loose ideas.
In November, after renovating my apartment I kind of hit the reset button on the game. I made a list about what I still wanted to put in the game and how long it would take me and ended up with a potential release in summer of 2017, which was way too late. So I stripped a lot of stuff away and simplified the rest. I also decided to make completely new levels for the final version. Back then I was certain that I were to keep everything simple, I would end up with a possible release date in January of 2017. ***
One recurring theme through Splinter Zone's development was me being certain a thing was "done" only to keep adding new things over and over again, because I figured out new stuff in the meantime. The character sprite is a good example of this. Over the span of a few weeks, I added several new animations to it, and each time I said "allright this is it!", only to come back to it a bit later, because I figured out, that maybe while I'm at it, I might as well put another detail in there. It obviously took a bit of extra time, but I think it was totally worth it, because it made the character appear more like a human being, instead of being just a thing that moves when you press a button.
I worked really hard through November and December, oftentimes more than 10 hours per day without any substantial time off. I was adamant on keeping the "January 2017" release date, even though it became more and more unlikely. I ended up overworking myself and by mid-December I started find myself being unable to fall asleep at night. Thankfully it was Christmas so I decided to take time off until the end of the year. I also scrapped the Release date for January, because I figured that I totally was not ready for it.
I did manage to release a "Beta" version of Splinter Zone in January. I also made plans towards releasing the full version. This time my deadline was March 21st, because it's the beginning of spring. Most of the time in January and February was spend on Splinter Zone's "Ending": A bunch of secret levels that players can unlock by fulfilling certain requirements and that enables them to escape from the game itself. It was really exciting to work on them, because I wanted to have these areas in there from day one. In early March I finally found the last element that was missing from the game's explosions:
Aside from that, I spend a lot of time creating menus and making sure that game has enough options. I wanted it to have fully customizable controls and also to be able to support DirectInput controllers without any kind of emulator. Getting this stuff to work was rather tricky, especially finding ways to save the controls after they were set, proved to be way more difficult than anticipated.
It was another period with long days of work and not much time off and similar to December, I started having trouble finding enough sleep at the start of April. At this time, it felt like there was no end to it. I ended up getting panic attacks and actually went to a hospital late at night; because I was convinced something was fundamentally wrong with my body. I also felt incredibly isolated at this time. I was living along and only occasionally went out to meet some friends or family members. I had weeks where barely spoke to anyone, because I was alone all the time. This combined with the stress of having to release a videogame without knowing if it will actually make any money at all, destroyed me. So I took time off again, stopped caring about release dates and just tried to do some nice things for myself. I spend more times with friends, and just tried to do things that make me feel better about myself. During my time off I barely touched my game, and when I started working on it again, I found myself being surprised at how good it actually was. I realized that no matter what was going to happen with the game itself, I would be happy with it regardless. Especially considering the circumstances (me having almost no experience and even less money to work with); I think I did a pretty good job. Then I got the amazing promo Art from Mizucat and suddenly this weird little game I made, started to look at least somewhat professional.
With today's release this whole process will come to an end. A completely new set of challenges will appear next and I keep having no idea what to expect in the future. I'm incredibly grateful that I had this opportunity and I'm incredibly grateful to all the folks who supported my work through all of this, be it either through supporting me financially, or just by showing interest in it. Back when I decided to make this game, I had no idea, if I was able to finish it. I assumed I could, but I really didn't know. I made lots of mistakes on the way, but I learned and most importantly I never stopped. I want to keep going this way. I want keep making games and maybe at some point earn a living this way. This game is done now, but I'm just getting started and I still have lots of ideas I want to explore.
*The sprite still has this name, in case some of you are wondering about the protagonist's gender.
**The game is about a person that is punished for eternity. There had to be a reason why the entity that was responsible for said punishment would decide to give you means to get stronger. For example the current upgrade system can explained as your punisher rewarding you for being performing up to their standards and punishing you, if you fail to meet them (losing your levels when you get hit).
***I really don't want to know how long this game would've taken, if I hadn't decided to simplify it, considering I'm six months behind my initial schedule even with this "simple" version.
(I'm not sure why I write this stuff here, whatever)
Since when is in the city level, which used to have a lil camera problem at the start, on the third of the three final roofs an enemy?! I totally memorized that the third one doens't have an enemy! Got me there ^^