Welp, it’ s been quite a year… it might be time for an update
Lets start with the bad first: Bullet Crave and RPGM are both in the freezer, because as much as we love our pet projects, we think some other projects have a bigger chance at success.
The good news: we’ ve got new clients, new projects and a LOAD of work, and unfortunatly it’ s all under NDA, except Fortress Craft, and now comes the good news:
We have moved from our inhouse engines onto Unity, which means faster development, and more wasted CPU cycles. We might not be working at the bleeding edge of what a GPU can do anymore, but the team can now work faster and produce more content than before.
The reasons we moved to Unity:
Microsoft dropped XNA support. It was an awesome platform but without support from Microsoft it will probably die… so we moved on as most Indie Devs tend to do, instead of clinging to a potentially sinking ship.
Expect some new news around November. Untill then Govert will of course go to the yearly Blender Conference.
Have a nice day,
The business side of running an Indie games studio
Warning: this post is just a list of tips and guidelines for starting one’s own company and the way we went about it, as usual your mileage might vary. And as I’m just writing this from the top of my head thus this post will go all over the place. For in-depth articles you’re welcome to glean the sources at the end of the post.
In the Netherlands starting a company is pretty easy: register yourself at the chambre of commerce (kamer van koophandel), choose the type of company you want to be (BV, VOF, eenmanszaak) and then troll the revenue services for a VAT number. Afther that you’re all set to go… Piece of advice, don’t do this before there’s an actual need to, like you’re about to sell the game or when investors start showing up or you’re actually making costs that need to be declared. Also do get an accountant as soon as cash starts moving, they are well worth the money if it saves you hundreds of hours trying to do it yourself
At some point we’d advise you to get a legal aid insurance, this doesn’t cost too much, and should you accidentally write skynet you’ll be able to defend yourself legally before the robots come to get you. This is especially important when you start signing contracts.
Get yourself some backup systems, we chose to use SVN because that was available at the time, at this point GIT might be a better idea because it’s new and shiny. But be sure to keep your backup system in a different physical location than your work computer! You don’t want to lose years of work due to a fire burning down both your computer and your backup.
Keep financial records dutifully in a spreadsheet, and update it ASAP, not at the end of the year (trust me, it gets ugly pretty fast). Be consistent in this for your (future) accountant.
Naturally, the biggest question is how to handle the Money and lack thereof. There are plenty of options:
Start from your mom’s basement: This works fine but you should really leave it after a year, if only for health reasons.
Start with investors: We have no experience with this as we took another route. Our research in the matter however suggests investors and game companies don’t mix very well as the high-hopes of investors don’t match the realities of making games. Basically, you end up selling a large part of your company before you’ve even made it worth something. And if that’s a controlling interest, you may end up not calling the shots. One tale of caution about investors: they can, and usually will, kill a game company. Horror stories galore on the interwebz.
Find business coaching and other university instances (there are plenty ones out there) that help people set up companies and let them help. They might give you a loan to start your company and enable you to leave your mum’s basement. This is currently a good option but you’ll have to be able to make up your own mind when their advice doesn’t match with the weird industry that is the indie industry. And they usually have very strict repayment demands on loans that can be problematic to meet if your company flops.
What we actually ended up doing was something different: Catnip Games started out as a part-time project – we kept normal wage-paying jobs for half the week and spent the other half working on projects. The normal jobs are dialled down when the company earns enough to compensate for lost income. This means you can’t fully focus on creating stuff, but it also means you don’t have to fear paying your rent next month. If the company flops then no harm done and we can move on without debts. If it works, we can ease into full-time self-employment almost immediately.
The best way to describe our development process we have found so far is to compare making games to writing a novel: it takes a long time to write, you can’t know if you have a best-seller until you start marketing it, and a complete flop or a huge success are always on the table, thus people “risking the bank” on investing in game development usually have to be made aware there is no guarantee whatsoever you’ll make any returns on your first game… but if they’re fine with losing money in the short run and make a buck in the future that’s up to them (and you).
Making a game is a R&D process, some solutions might be found in a day, but unforeseen issues might set you back weeks, experience is definitively something acquired on the job, even if you think you know everything. In building a game will you encounter weird unexpected issues and have to fix them, or find it’s unfixable without too much hassle and force you to start from scratch*.
This is usually the part where investors start giving “advice”. You can guess how much help that advice will be when coming from a financial analyst trying to comprehend why the physics engine has bugs in your new platformer/rts/shooter game.
Regarding subsidies: we currently haven’t found any that matched our criteria for a healthy indy dev studio, as subsidies are usually applicable to salaries and a starting indie game company can’t afford employees. Other subsidies are available but will take you up to two weeks in a month of filing papers instead of making games. If you think it’s worth it be my guest, we didn’t. Most subsidies requirements mean you are only eligible for them when you no longer need them in the first place.
If your business takes off you might have to face other problems like managing a team, managing business contacts, going to network events, game days, and other events where like-minded people hang out. But those are luxury problems.
Well hope you enjoyed a piece of mind, for more concise information there are always these sources of in depth information:
http://www.gamedev.net (especially the forums)
*from what I’ve heard losing a month or even a years worth of work does happen
That’s it, we put Bullet Crave on Ulule to see if crowdfunding would work, here is the link.
We ended up choosing for Ulule instead of Indiegogo, since Ulule is aimed at Europe and has some successful game projects that fit more with Bullet Crave. Kickstarter is ofcourse the biggest site, but is only for Americans.
A very SHMUP day to you!
Govert – aka Hoxolotl.
We’re still working on several projects (same ol’ same ol’) but one of our “old projects” might get resurrected:
After seeing the wildly successful crowd-funding project we thought “what the hell?” and thought Bullet Crave would be worth giving this a go.
So we looked into all the things that are needed for a successful funding for a project like this, and are probably going to put it on one of the crowd funding websites like indiegogo.com. As usual Rome wasn’t built in a day and all this social media stuff needs to be aligned and ready before we put our project forward. And as we’d like this to work out well it’s going to need a bit of spit’n’polish before we dive into it. Building the webpage and other details and looking where we can put the demo (yes we have one!) and making sure people get the right idea from the onset.
Currently we’re thinking of using the crowdfunding for the remaining development and then releasing the game for free afterwards. If there are enough people interested then we will upgrade the technology (currently 2D) to 3D and add lots of eye candy (as much as the funding allows). Our hope is to do away with DRM and copyright infringement by making the game freely available and being funded by our fans.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress.
Have a nice weekend,
Govert Combée aka Hoxolotl.
Catnip Games will be participating at http://enschede.startupweekend.org/ to present a framework to build games in the fashion of community driven development.
Our current developer experience with FortressCraft and other projects is that really-really good game ideas and feedback often come from the community, and it would be practical to streamline community feedback in a system that benefits developers and community alike.
The basis of this (hopefully open) system is to give people the right to vote with their wallet during the whole lifetime of a game. This means they can choose which parts of the game to fund, and developers can directly see which parts the players would like to see in the game.
As this is still at the level of an idea, everything you see here is what we are going to do _unless_it_is_stupid.
In one sentence:
A System for community driven development and funding of games.
The targets are:
- for the community to be able to fund a game during and after its development
- to enable Developers to live off their work
- a transparent system for people to voice their opinion about a game
- a way to make games that can evolve continually instead of having to split them into “sequels” or other “addons”
- having a content management system for games where everybody can contribute and access game elements
Thank you, have a nice weekend, I know I will
-Govert Combée aka Hoxolotl
We got some questions from Johannes about the status on RPGM, well the good news is, it’s still being developped, the bad news is, because we have lots of other projects it goes slowly.
But instead of yapping about it I could just give you some screenshots and some explanations, mmm’kay?
The display engine has been binned for a better one, the tiling has been reworked to look nicer (from hexes to round-ish), some vegetation has been rerendered, roads have been made, cities added (with tavern, keep…), dungeon entrances and ruins added, the city names now show up in nice colored ribbons, oh my!
The stats have been implemented, leveling and other shit-fu is working
And suddenly, rabbits!
Dungeons and taverns and other inside places
The interior settings now work, walking around a dungeon and the lot. The first quests have been completed.
Of course there are lots of other stuff big and small, just mentioning a few nice things:
- chat between players works (ish).
- we’ve had 1 generated world with only elephants and frogs surviving, thank you emergent behaviour for killing off the other 36 species in the world creation fase.
- the farther you go from civilisation, the bigger the critters get, and the more chance you have of an encounter
One of the advantages of being an Indie developer is being able to work on what you want to work on, instead of what your boss or publisher tells you to. Unfortunately that also leads to unfinished projects, such as the lack of titles we’ve pushed out. Finishing up a title from a playable pre-alpha to an actual game is the perfect time to get distracted by a new pretty on the horizon.
Ofcourse, sometimes that pretty turns out to actually be very pretty indeed. Lately we’ve been helping Projectorgames with FortressCraft, the first chapter due to be released this month on XBLIG. FortressCraft has also gotten quite some media attention already, despite not being out yet. A lot of it has been hate and flames spewed by Minecraft fans who are outraged that we’re touching their precious game (Even though the standard response to criticism is ‘why don’t you go make your own game then?’ – Funny how that works).
But all that outrage has also brought FC to the attention of people who do have a level mind and are looking forward to its release, and that’s been very refreshing. I never really believed in the phrase ‘Any PR is good PR’, but this experience has proven that it really does hold.
More information on http://www.fortresscraft.com
In the coming months we’ll try to give you a small look into the kitchen of Catnip Games. There’s a lot happening behind the scenes:
We’re working on a Zombie Survival game together with Projectorgames. Martijn is coding the game engine, squishing bugs and fixing Govert’s pipeline when needed. And Govert is modelling, animating and rendering away, occasionally reworking his art pipeline to have all those sprites rendered in one go.
Then there’s our “pet summer project” RPGM which from a simmer went to taking a day (up to two) a week, with the volunteers still pitching in regularly, but as it’s mostly code for the world generator there’s not much to see, and thus not much to show either. Move along…
Bullet Crave is frozen until further notice, but it is far from being off our minds, we’ll be probably reworking it with the new game engine around second quarter 2011. I was about to say “February”, but I’m learning to keep the deadline vague enough or else they make that well known “whooshing” sound as they go by.
Lets see what could we use for show and tell right now? a screen shot of our node setup in Blender will do:
This is just a small example of a pipeline here’s what it does:
From one render layer it almost directly gets the shadeless diffuse (colour) of the model and makes the diffuse.png.
From the other render layer, in which a special height color material is used it jumbles the orientations so the normals fit our game engine, add the alpha and makes the normal.png.
Then from the same layer it takes the height colour (black=floor to white=ceiling) rips it out and puts it back in so we can code height into the RGB channels of the height.png, because we need that much precision.
Of course this all would be easy peasy if one sprite was enough, it turns out for the levels we need 4 angles (3×4 sprites), then for the animated stuff we use 8 frames for each sprite under 16 angles (3x8x16 sprites=384), and then all those sprites have to be put into a sprite sheet, then the height has to be set and some magic fairy powder added (that’s Martijn’s job) and you have a game…pfew.
Soo, have a nice week,
Govert. /aka Hoxolotl.