I wanted to share some thought on the development of Transcend and where I see things going from here. First of all I would like to say that, like all large projects, this is not going at all how I originally planned. Granted when I first started Transcend (back when I called it Death and Resurrection), I had a very skewed idea of what it would be like to make games. Having watched Indie Game: The Movie I expected comparable success to the developers featured in the film. Reality began to sink in very quickly. I won’t bore you with the details since it is not the purpose of this article to chronicle the past few years of development so I’ll just hit the high points.
I started the game out with no real regard for how the game looked. I’ve never been gifted in game art. I neither possess the ability to draw nor the ability to discern the quality of an other artist’s work. Consequently all the art I used came from game assets from an online marketplace. When I finally met an artist who had a passion for games, we teamed up and he began switching out the art that I had purchased with his own art in order to make the game more unique (I was concerned with how many game developers had already bought the same assets and if that would result in another game on the market that looked like mine).
Later we had an opportunity to pitch the game to Developer Relations at NVIDIA in order to have our game featured on the NVIDIA Shield. Right away the first thing we were told was that the graphics weren’t on par with the other games that NVIDIA featured. Personally, I thought indie games generally had a pass when it came to graphics since we are working with extremely low budgets, but nevertheless we tried our best to meet the demand. My artist redrew the entire game and increased the resolution taking our main character from a canvas of 64 x 64 to 512 x 512. Still we were unable to meet the demands of NVIDIA and we decided to go with Greenlight instead. But even on Greenlight, we were told that the graphics needed to improve. Apparently I had underestimated the importance of nice looking graphics in games. I couldn’t understand how a game with such basic graphics as Super Meat Boy could could receive a higher Metacritic score than the highly polished Fallout: New Vegas which was released only a day earlier. Speaking as a gamer I could say that I like Super Meat Boy a lot more than Fallout: New Vegas simply because the gameplay of Super Meat Boy is just better regardless of how it looks. I asked a well known video game blogger (I don’t have a way of contacting this person again to obtain permission to quote him/her so he/she will remain anonymous) about why he/she thought Super Meat Boy was so successful without high res graphics and he/she said “Super Meat Boy is a glob of tissue! Gamers were like, ‘A glob of tissue!? Here take my money!'” I was grateful to this blogger for taking the time to talk to me so I didn’t press the point, but I was very confused with what he/she said. Over the next year I engaged in a total of three crowd funding campaigns in order to raise money to hire a full time artist to redo the graphics. All three campaigns failed miserably.
Despite this, the good news is the game was successfully Greenlit. But now that puts me in the difficult situation of having to complete this game without the ability to improve the graphics. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and here is the best I could come up with. Instead of improving the graphics, I’m going to scale them back. I think the main problem is that it looks like I’m trying to make this a beautiful game thus putting it in the same category as such beautiful games as Braid, or Limbo. But by scaling it back the game could be considered to be not even trying to compete with those games. I realize that David Hellman is a fantastic artist and that Jonathan Blow is a game making genius. I can’t compete with that, but I can make a game that people will enjoy playing.
To that end, I will be making a few changes. To start off with, I will be simplifying the play area. Rather than having slopes and hills, I’m going to have the player standing on simple blocks. This is a sad decision to come to. It took me a long time to get the slope physics too work, but they serve no purpose other than to make the game look nice and I want to make it clear that aesthetics is not something I can afford. When it comes to aesthetics, in this market apparently you need to go big or go home, and going big is not an option for me. Another Perspective has no slopes and its one of my favorite games. I will also be removing the forest background and will look for something more simple. This will probably require me to think of another “death effect.” Right now, the only way I have to tell the player that he is dead is by making the character transparent, like a ghost. But if the background is too simple then the transparency may not be obvious enough. So I still have some thinking to do.
I’m also going to have to do away with the story. Without aesthetics, there is no way I could possibly tell the story I had in mind here. The decision to drop the story was an easier one because I already have an idea with what I will replace it with. Saying any more here would spoil the surprise.
The life/death and time mechanics will still be very much a part of the game.
I feel like for the past few years I’ve been burdened with what other people thought. I cared too much about making the game look the way other people wanted it to look that I forgot that this whole thing was meant to be my own artistic expression. So from now on that is what this will be.
One thing I am glad to report is that I have never had any complaints about the mechanics or gameplay. Those are dialed in. So even though this game may not be the prettiest on the market, I do believe that players will enjoy playing it.