Following the release of Slydris, we spoke to the one-man developer about design philosophy, his experiences as an indie developer, and Radiangames' next project.
Ten acclaimed games across multiple platforms, all released in just over two years. It would be an impressive publishing record for any studio to boast, and yet Radiangames' titles are the product of one developer, Luke Schneider.
Following the release of the wonderful puzzle game Slydris last week, Modojo spoke to Luke about his design and development philosophy, his reflections on developing for the Xbox Live indie channel, and what we can expect from the next Radiangames title.
Can you give us a bit of detail on your development background and how Radiangames came to be founded?
Radiangames was founded in March 2010. Prior to Radiangames, I worked as a senior/technical designer at Volition for 6 years, and Outrage Games for 5 and a half years before that. Games I worked on for those two companies included Descent, Red Faction II, and Red Faction: Guerilla.
I was very fortunate to get into game development right out of college in 1997, thanks to my passion for making Descent 1 and 2 levels. I loved both of those games and made numerous level packs for them, then got an interview with Outrage for a level designer position on Descent 3. Descent 1 and 2 were made by Parallax Software, but Parallax had split into two companies (Outrage and Volition) by the time I came along.
Slydris is something of a departure for the studio as you're more typically known for twin-stick shooters. What was the game's origins? Why a puzzle game and why now?
I've actually made puzzle games before, and have plenty of ideas for other puzzle games, but just haven't time to make them all yet. Slydris just happens to be the puzzle idea that was the most straight-forward to make for a touch screen. Between my time at Outrage and Volition (Outrage closed down in July 2003, I started at Volition in early 2004), I actually finished a GBA puzzle game that very few people have ever seen, and I hope to bring that game to more platforms some day. That early foray into indie development didn't work out because I'm not a very good salesman (and couldn't get any publishers to sign the game).
What's next for the game? Are there any updates planned for Slydris, new modes for example?
There will be an update coming soon (see more below). No new modes coming soon, but maybe some day in the future.
The game obviously takes advantage of the iPad's larger screen space. Did you ever consider the game for iPhones, and might it be possible to port the game in the future?
The size issue is the main reason I decided to focus on iPad-only at first. Now that I've had more time to think about it, I have some better idea of how to squeeze it down for the iPhone, so I will be attempting that with the next update.
I make it ten games you've released now across multiple platforms, in the space of just a couple of years: a prodigious output by anyone's standards. Can you tell us a bit about your design process from inception to final release, and how you've been able to maintain that release pace?
I don't have anything fancy in my process. I just try to be efficient in everything I do, because I'm actually a bit lazy at times. Anyway, I just choose an idea from my long list of potential game ideas and start working on it. Usually I copy an existing project and rip out what I don't need, but sometimes I start with a skeleton project (barebones version of my engine), particularly for puzzle games.
Then I get the basic gameplay elements in place, but I only work on adding depth and variety after I'm sure the basics work. Along the way I try to get an art style going that doesn't suck, and music and sound effects are added pretty late. I usually have to whip up some sort of editor near the middle of the project. I've done separate editors in C#, or as a separate Unity application, or built-in to the game. I've even made a spreadsheet "exporter" (I use Excel to reformat some data so I can copy-paste it into code).
The Android market is an untapped platform for you. What are your thoughts on the Google Play ecosystem for developers?
I think there are two major downsides to Android: 1) Supporting so many different resolutions and devices is a major pain, even though my games are pretty resolution-switching-friendly. 2) I've not heard good things about selling through Google Play (more in terms of sales numbers than user experience).
That said, someday I'll probably get a Unity Android license and try converting a game or two. But most Android games that make money are F2P (on iOS too, but it's possible to do OK with paid), and I'm not in a hurry to do F2P games.
The problem of indie exposure on Xbox Live has been well documented, but how have you found the experience of developing for mobiles? What challenges have you faced?
You have basically the same problems, to be honest. With XBLIG you get some guaranteed exposure through the New Releases list, and I had exposure for a while through the Top-Rated list (until ratings were manipulated in March 2011).
With iOS I seem to get better coverage on websites, but I've had a difficult time with Apple for some reason. The only game they've given any exposure to is Ballistic SE, while my two higher-rated and better-previewed/reviewed games since then weren't even on the New & Noteworthy list.
Without a direct contact at Apple (or a publisher), it seems to be difficult to get them to pay attention to quality games from small developers. I've talked to other indie developers with the same issue, and there's no real solution aside from trying to find someone in your network of contacts that knows someone at Apple (or knows someone who knows someone).
What are your reflections on the XBLIG experience now, and what can be done to make indie development on consoles more appealing for developers?
I enjoyed working on the Xbox 360, and the community was very cool, but providing a more level playing field (and less restrictive access) is the most important thing that needs to happen. Though it was a step in the right direction, XBLIG is very much at the bottom of the gaming totem pole. I'm excited to see if Ouya can deliver on the prospect of an indie-focused console.
Can you share any details of your next project? Slydris was a radical departure, so can we expect an equally fresh direction for the next Radiangames title?
Not yet, unfortunately. But it's not a shooter, and it's not a classic puzzler, though it is another iOS game. The gameplay is close to being finalized, but there's still a lot of work to do. I will likely be working with a publisher for the next game.