Interview with Seeders Developer, Steam Game

We have another interview for you!  This one is from Seeders developer BIGosaur.  Seeders is a puzzle game currently on Steam.

From their Steam page description:

Seeders is a puzzle-platformer with tight and responsive controls and some really challenging puzzles. If you share my opinion that most recent games in the genre have been too easy on the puzzles – then this game is for you. This game will make you stop and think. You will think about the puzzles when you are away from the computer. The puzzles don’t have many moving parts, so it’s easy to combine them in your head. But the solution is rarely obvious and usually isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind.

The game engine allows you to experiment with the world and try different approaches until you find one that works. Some of the puzzles can be solved in multiple different ways. Checkpoints are abundant and it’s always easy to go for one more try. In the first chapter there are subtle clues in the environment like billboards or signs on walls that should give you hints.

We talked to him about how he started developing, how his game came to be, and what it was like making Seeders.

Enjoy this interview, and let us know what you think of the game Seeders!

Tell me a bit about yourself, and how you started developing games?

I’m 38 years old, married, father of two. I played my first games as a kid on Commodore64. I made my first game when I was 17 in assembly language on Amiga 500. It wasn’t really a game, more like a demo with a spaceman walking on a planet and shooting alien monsters with a laser gun. It had only two levels.

The first real game I made was Njam, a two-player co-op Pac-Man clone. I first created the game in C language and it ran on 486 computers using PC beeper to make sounds. This was in 2003. Later I rewrote the game to use SDL for graphics and sound and released it as open source on http://njam.sourceforge.net. The game got thousands of downloads and was great open source hit, with many people contributing art, ports and levels. Some players encouraged me to make a commercial sequel, so I made Njam2 in 2006 and I’m still selling it on my website: http://www.guacosoft.com/njam/

It made some money (about 80 copies have been sold in the past 9 years), but not even close enough to do game development full time. At that time I was getting married and planning a family, so it was time to get serious and I abandoned game making and built a company that made accounting software. In the next 7 years that company grew to 5 people and is really successful. However, I always wanted to make games, so in 2013. I handed over the reigns to my employees (one of whom became a co-owner in 2010) and decided to focus on making games again.

My strong traits are programming and level design. I’m still struggling to make decent graphics, so I plan to increase budget for my future games and get some talented artists to help in that area.

Where do you get the ideas for you games?

I usually get inspired when playing some other games or watching movies. Often I play a game and I notice something cool and wonder: “Hey, what if there was a game made around that concept?”.

Why did you decide to make Seeders?

I got a new computer in 2013 and was finally able to play all the games I collected in various bundles and sales over the years. So I installed and played Braid, Fez, Limbo in a really short period of time and I discovered that puzzle-platformer is the game genre that I like the most. I searched for more games like that, and although there are some great games on the market, there aren’t many that are really good.

The thing with puzzle-platformers is that once you complete the game, there is no incentive to play it again. So, you have to find a new one. Also, most of the games in the genre seem too easy. The puzzles are really simple, and you really have to stop to think. I was reluctant to create a game like that myself, because my drawing skill aren’t top-notch. And then I played VVVVVV and Thomas Was Alone and figured that graphics is not the most important thing and players still value the puzzle content underneath.

I still wasn’t sure if I would have enough puzzles to make a complete game (for example, Limbo is way to short for me), so I spent first two months just drawing the puzzles on paper and thinking of possible game mechanics. When I had around 40 puzzle ideas ready I decided it was enough to get started. While designing those 40 puzzles in the level editor I got so many new ideas and in the end created a game with over 100 puzzles.

In short, I decided to make a game that I would play if it existed. Something that’s really Braid-level hard. Something that would challenge the player to think out of the box.

Can you quickly walk me through the process you went through from the first moment you thought of this game until today, when the game is on Steam?

I’ll try to make it short:

Since I wanted to make a puzzle game, I started thinking of possible game mechanics. There would be enemies that simply walk around, enemies that actively chase you and enemies that run away from you. Player would be able to push blocks around and manipulate gravity with some kind of device. Those were the initial ideas I built the first puzzles around.

My next step was trying to draw some graphics. I tried a couple of different styles: silhouette graphics like Limbo or Badlands, then something pixelated like VVVVVV and I also tried to make some kind of cartoony graphics like World Of Goo. Of those three, the dark style looked the best. You can see all the screenshots and videos from that period here:

http://www.java-gaming.org/index.php?topic=34774.0

The game was at first named The Final Jump. The idea was that you crash-landed onto some planet and got separated from your spaceship by a big hill with a steep slope you cannot climb. You are trying to find a way to get around a come back to it somehow. The idea was that on the last screen you had to jump into the void and land right onto that hill. If the player missed the jump, he would be back at the start of the game. I abandoned this idea later as it seemed too punishing.

As I made the dark graphics I realized it is really hard to discern different game elements that were core to the gameplay. I think that’s one of the reasons Limbo is so short – it’s hard to think of many elements you can use when you are constrained to dark tones. As I wanted the game to be much longer I switched to pixel graphics although I knew it wasn’t that good.

One of the problems I faced was that I could create average graphics, but I really wasn’t able to make animations. At the time, the main character had legs on the ground, and was just gliding around. I looked at it, and somehow realized it reminds me of someone just gliding on skateboard. So I shortened the legs, draw the skateboard and it worked pretty good. I later added particle effects to show that skateboard is jet-powered.

The enemies were drawn as huge monsters at first, but it did not fit the skateboard theme. I changed the game story to be about skateboarders, and changed that first monster to become a construction worker driving a forklift. This gave me some interesting game mechanics and the fact that those drivers are not attacking you became integral part to the new game story. When my 4-year-old son saw those forklifts, he said he wanted to drive it in the game. I tried this and it worked so good, that I decided to introduce other vehicles as well: you can fly a spaceship

 and drive a big rolling metal ball that also has ability to modify gravity of other objects.

While deciding on the style and graphics I built a custom level editor that integrated with Box2D and allowed the game to be played inside editor without stopping and starting the action. Basically, you can open the editor and play the complete game in it, while pushing objects with a mouse or adding new stuff while the player and enemies are moving on the screen. This allowed me to do very quick iterations on the puzzles.

When I had 50% of levels complete, I presented the game at a local IT conference. I got a lot of people trying it out and this provided a lot of useful feedback. The main complaint was that the main character was too slow, so I added 60% boost to the speed. I recommend to other developers to give the game to complete strangers to test and see what problems they might have. I got the best feedback when I just kept quiet and watched them play. That way I wasn’t able to “fix” any problems, it was the same as if they bought the game on Steam and played it at home.

I really wanted this game to be one-man indie project. The only thing I outsourced was music. I found some great composers on reddit and they made me an original soundtrack. Many players later said that I would’ve better spent that money on some graphics artist, but I’m still not sure about that. I really wanted to push myself and see what can I create on my own, even if I was aware that it is not perfect, I focused on making clever and hard puzzles that really challenge players to stop and think.

What has been the most challenging part about this process so far?

The most challenging part for me is animating pixel graphics. I’m good with particle effects, but when it comes to making animation by hand I have a hard time. For this reason I constrained my self to only use characters on wheels, so animations are limited to rotation and flipping. The main character and his friends glide around on skateboards, alien robots have tracks, workers drive forklifts and you can drive an anti-gravity vehicle which is essentially a big metal ball.

There are some exceptions though: you can fly a spaceship, which isn’t animated at all, but has particle effects. In chapter four, I used the dark silhouette graphics which made things much easier. There are “Spikors”, spiky monsters that glide on the ground, but since everything is dark, players can imagine that Spikors crawl like caterpillars or snails.

I think that this lack of animation had negative effect on the sales, so I’m currently in the process of learning how to animate, so that I can create much more appealing graphics and animations for my next game.

And what part has been the easiest?

The easiest part was programming. Of course, there were times when I wanted to cut corners and throw some feature out because it seemed too complex to program. Often, I would decide to do so, and few minutes later I would think to myself: “Programming is my strong side, I cannot slack there”. So I would go back and implement it.

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