Jul 28, 2013

A gnomic making of Droidscape: Basilica

The Droidscape: Basilica making-of you are about to read could easily be summarized thusly: “We used computers. It took bloody ages.”. One particularly wise man would really appreciate it this way and it would also be absolutely true.

Better though to go for the didactic, cathartic article and tell you a bit more about my and Kyttaro GamesDroidscape: Basilica experience and the wonders, troubles and tribulations of indie game development for iOS. Even better, let me do the sensible thing first and start at the beginning.

As the precious reader of this blog should be aware of, even though I do love to enjoy and study games, I have never had any sort of formal training in creating them. Nor any real experience, besides a few levels here and there, some playtesting for friends and my fair share of overly ambitious and thus unfinished projects. Actually, hadn't Greece deteriorated I would probably be happily pursuing my academic career, which I'm apparently not. I am working for/with Kyttaro Games in publishing indie-loving bundles and doing games.

The first game of our very own and the one we will be releasing in a few days for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch (launch date: July 31) is no other than the aforementioned Droidscape: Basilica. A sci-fi, stop-motion animated arcade puzzler with quite a bit of story in it and some rather revolutionary (yet also still experimental) head-tracking controls.

Here's a brief take on the story of the thing (so far):

Many Indie Hats and One Concept

As you may have already heard, indie studios do not come with rigid and pre-determined roles. Everyone usually wears all sorts of hats and this is exactly how things also work in Kyttaro Games. I for example, obviously an urban geographer, had to dabble in web-design, game design, a bit of development, testing, level design, story writing, copy editing, some marketing, community management, acting on camera, storyboarding trailers and organizing several beta tests. Among other thing, if you can believe this.

By far, the most interesting and exciting thing I did were the initial brainstorming sessions in which we came up with our first ideas for games, one of which, unsurprisingly, was AnMech (yes, that would be Droidscape). Another was what evolved into Artfully Framed, but the first prototype for AnMech seemed to progress much faster and the concept for a two-phase game in which you had to both plan and execute masterfully was too intriguing to ignore for long. And working on it on paper (hence sketching level ideas and jotting down mechanics) seemed to actually, err, work.

From AnMech to Droidscape: Basilica

After creating a fully working prototype in less than a month (or so I believe; crunching makes ones memory hazy) with placeholder graphics, basic mechanics and ten levels, we went hunting for an artist to help us out with the aesthetics of the game. Can you spot the problem in this? Yes, of course, we were ridiculously late, for, as we found out, game art takes time and you (we, too) should start working on it the moment you decide to craft your game.

On the other hand, we did manage to get visual artist Hariton Bekiaris to not only provide us with excellent art concepts, but also with a central idea for a sci-fi plot and setting. He even suggested we went for stop-motion animation, as sculpting things is something he apparently loves doing.

Concept Art for Droidscape: Basilica

Soon after that and after I and Hariton worked a bit more on the plot and the gameplay basics were decided upon, we also settled on the name Droidscape. Then the Basilica bit was added and, somehow, we simply liked Droidscape: Basilica too much to really alter it.

Stop-motion Animation and those Graphical bits

I will not go into detail here, but I have to say that the first time I touched the final Droidscape models I was beyond ecstatic. I knew we had chosen correctly in going down the perilous and time-consuming stop-motion animated road. It may have taken almost a year to get form the first character concepts to the final animation frames, but the game does indeed look lovely.

Happily, we've already covered the complete evolution of Bishop 7 (our protagonist) in a series of post over at the Kyttaro Games site and I won't have to write more on the subject.

Please do take the time to have a look at:

- The stop motion animation of Droidscape: Basilica
The Evolution of Bishop 7: The first Concepts
The Evolution of Bishop 7: Adding Physicality
The Evolution of Bishop 7: The Final. Posable Model

What hasn't been covered in those articles though is the simple fact that the necessary in-game graphics (tiles, characters, enemies etc) are far from everything a game might need. There are dozens of interface elements, buttons, menus, pop-ups and other stuff that have to be made and this also takes ages. Especially when deciding that each and every button in the main menu has ti be slightly different to the others. Or when being convinced that every world should have its story-pushing comic thingy... 

A proper Droidscape: Basilica screenshot. Exciting, eh?

The Musical and Aural Bits

Shockingly, music and sound effects were the less stressing aspect of Droidscape: Basilica. We already knew we would deviously collaborate with Chris Christodoulou whose work on The Sea Will Claim Everything we all loved, and Chris proved to be much more than a great, versatile and tech-savvy musician. He's a fantastic person and I truly enjoyed spending time with him. Actually, we've already signed the man for the next Kyttaro project too.

Besides, the impressively extensive Droidscape soundtrack managed to perfectly fit the game and was even capable of taking on certain dynamic aspects. You'll see when you play the thing... Oh, and all the music is available here.

As for the sound effects we were lucky enough to have Studio 19 on board; the same team that did the sound direction for Robert Wilson's Odyssey. We simply provided them with a list of the sounds we would need and a fortnight later were given over 500 unique sounds to choose from. while being taught that one can never have enough effects to use...

Levels, Levels, Levels (and some Words)

Game design, marketing and other random duties aside, my main work on Droidscape: Basilica had to do with levels. Designing all 60 of them to be precise and deciding on new game mechanics and the pace of their introduction to be precise. I still do not know whether I've done a good job, but from what I've heard from the rest of the team and our beta testers I did okay. Maybe even a bit better than that.

What I aimed for were a good learning and difficulty curve, a mix of longer and shorter levels, variety and, uhm, fun I suppose. Every level started its life built around an idea and on paper, only to make it into the game's editor and be playtested and tweaked to death until I was happy with it. Took more time than expected, but I will hopefully get into more details on the Droidscape post-mortem that's bound to appear at some point after the game is launched and we have some proper insight on what we did right or wrong.

Level ideas on paper. How exciting, eh?

Refining, Testing, Head-Tracking and Crunching

Interestingly, we've been thinking that Droidscape: Basilica would be ready "next month" since January. We were obviously wrong and I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be launching in a few days if we hadn't exhausted ourselves for the past two months. And when I say exhausted, I do really mean this. 90 hours of work per week would have been paradise for us, but, yeah, we did worse than that. We even managed to evolve our until recently unannounced head-tracking technology to a point that, with a bit of work, it could function in a game. Obviously, that work had to happen while shooting trailer videos, fixing bugs, implementing new shadows and a myriad other things one does before submitting ones app to Apple.

Still, neither me, nor the rest of the team expected the amount of tweaking, refining and testing required in order to be able to actually release something. It does seem that unless one has enough money to survive for months without income then crunching is indeed unavoidable. Exactly as dear Agustin Cordes had warned me it would happen.

And we still have a launch to go through...


  1. I was already very curious about this game, but now that I read this, I have a feeling it might be awesome: fantastic read, can't wait to see it available :)

    1. Thank you very much for the kind words dear Daniele! They do mean a lot and I sincerely (deeply too) hope you like the game :)