Saturday, October 19, 2019

EARRGAMES presents: HEXCAPE! a free minesweeper game.

It's been a very long time since I've given a life sign on any of my channels. Since then, a lot of things have happened in my life, and almost nothing at the same time. A lot of failed projects, unfinished ideas, uncertainty about the future, fear of indie apocalypse, impostor syndrome taking over, the bad situation in my country, and overall feeling really lost about how to proceed with my "career" if I can call it that way.

I always take pride in anything I create, it's a nice and reasserting moment when you're compiling a 1.0 version of anything, and eagerly proceed to polish up the front page of whatever project you're working on; However, reaching this step is very difficult overall, getting as hard as your ambition is, to try to create the "perfect" product, the next "big hit," the "this will make me rich" game. Let's make it worse by "I need to hire a musician! Royalty free music isn't good enough", "Should I pitch this game to Devolver digital?", "Should I translate the game into 100's of languages?". The funny thing is, these questions materialize as soon as you're in the prototype phase, and you haven't even decided on your final game design. * Sigh.*

This money chasing paradigm is the root of all my evils (and probably most of the indies / artists out there), when you expect too much of your creations, you'll be scared of failure, and unconsciously you'll start avoiding progress in the project. Failing is a necessary way to correct the path you take in your life. After I finished Into the Gloom, a good ball of cash followed, which was back in, idk 2015 I think, I got overconfident, I took "financial stability" for granted, but I never really took the trouble to analyze why that happened. I can't go on without thanking Flying Interactive enough, they saw my game stalled in Desura (Store which, never paid my $300 ... never forget!) and did the tasks of publishing on Steam. I don't know yet if they did some magic, or if it was because of a pew die pie hype, but the game got attention for a while. This is when the curse started!

To this day, and looking at my recent past, I don't know what made the game a relative success, but there's one thing I know: there's a game because I didn't care about its financial future. I didn't try to justify its lack of dept with useless extra features or "bang for your buck" content, it was joyfully completed, and I was proud of it; then, I put the game in "to see what happens next". But, not understanding it's success, made me shield myself behind the "I will live out of games! so now they have to be perfect and polished!" lie, and I call it a lie, because, if we compare Into the gloom with any other 3d game, it's quality is "modest" at best, I put love into that game, but I don't consider it to be very polished or perfect at all.

Then I wasted about a year, I think, trying to solve bank account problems (USD isn't my native currency, or "wasn't" at that time) was really limited to managing my funds and receiving payments from my partner, and I've been kind of unmotivated for quite a long time. In the meantime, I've mostly done small personal prototypes and learned a few things here and there.

Then Downbreak came! The nightmare project! It was literally a nightmare. I was so obsessed with "perfection" that the game almost didn't come out, it was just over because I really forced myself to do it, it ended up taking about a year and a half, which is funny, because the first two or three weeks of the game, the main mechanic was already done, even some ok-ish enough graphics were done, but this was a simple, level behind level endless game. I was just thinking about releasing it as a $1 Steam game (So I could get 1 million sales and become rich right??!!), then, "no no, it can be improved!"; Let's just add some special boxes! ... Let's add a couple of powerups! ... Let's just add a few more levels! ... What if I do the campaign mode ... I'm bored with this, but I'm just going to add one more thing.

I hated Downbreak so much at some point that it was hard to put 5 minutes into the code. The game grew a lot, and I wasn't used to spaghettification in the code in such proportions, not at this level. I was so bored that I didn't even bother to make the code clean and reusable, took a toll on my patience. So, yes, it follows as several months of investing almost no time into the game, with a feeling of imminent doom about its future, as something was telling me beforehand that the game wasn't that good, and then I tried to correct this perception (by adding more content...) the worse it got! the game almost lost it's identity, it was no longer a minesweeper puzzles, it was now a collection of all sorts of puzzles and mechanics. Some of me was delighted with this monstrosity, I don't know why, most of the time I didn't like how it was, but when I tested the builds long enough, it was great! It's hard to explain how you like something, not at the same time, but this was the case with Downbreak.

To this day, I've sold so few copies of it that I can't even add a trading card! We're talking about 15-16 months after it's release date! Wow, I really feel like the game has failed, I don't even dare to look at the game forums, even if people ask for fixes or stuff, I don't see myself compiling that game again, I have a very negative connection to it. Maybe at some point in time I should set it free.

After this failure, I realized that I needed to seriously simplify my ideas even more, it's very easy to get out of the scope of the project. Other factors might have been missing an audience, or I just had bad luck with news broadcasts, or people just don't like minesweeper a lot these days.

I entered into a strong conflict with my inner self, "The Indie Dream is over!" "You can no longer make a penny out of steam, because it is now saturated with 9 million games," "You just suck! You're a horrible designer," "You're never going to sell games again, or you're going to starve and die in misery". This feeling has been with me for some time, and it still does. But I had to accept a reality last month, would I make games if I was wealthy enough? Of course I would have! My whole dream is to build enough wealth to be able to do whatever I want, and in my case it's making games, it doesn't matter if a game idea already exists, I don't care, it's just building things what makes me happy.

So, what's all this got to do with Hexcape? (which was the point of the post)

I wanted to test myself to see if I was really "cursed" or not, I was going to make a relatively simple game, with no other objective than to release it, no revenue involved, no future maintenance needed for the game, so a completely stand-alone offline game would do it. One condition was: this game needs to teach me something new or help me improve my skills, it doesn't matter what it is. In this case, it was the new UI system, I didn't use it properly in a project (Downbreak used 3D text and world space mesh based UI, just to avoid having to scale elements later ... lazy me).

I wanted to see how efficient and reliable it was. I hated it for some reason at first, but I really like it now! It can even be used as part of the gameplay layer, as is the case with Hexcape maps, tiles, and any interactive game element is UI based (except for explosions and tile dissolve FX, all is UI based). At the end, I can now embrace a new tool for my arsenal.

So that all happened! The game is finished and I've had fun making it, a frustration-free experience. It took about a month from design to finish, a lot of testing involved and minor design changes.The best part of it? Another game in my portfolio, and a reaffirmation that I might not be cursed, just doing things the wrong way. From now on, I could make small games just for the sake of learning more, not for the sake of the pursuit of wealth. If, by chance, something turns out to be good enough, then I might start worrying about selling it again.

Feel free to try Hexcape if you're a minesweeper fan! I'm not going to promise you that you'll like it, but hey! It's free of charge. If you feel that the game is worth anything to you, you can pay what you want for a new copy and give it to someone who might like the game.

Thank you for reading my thoughts. If you've ever supported my games, I want to thank you with all my heart. Indie Devs are also humans (there may be exceptions, though), never forget that!

Wishing you happiness and success,
Emmanuel (earrgames).