Indie Game Maker Contest 2017
At the end of 2017, a game jam named Indie Game Maker Contest 2017 was being held. It was a global game jam where the idea was to create a one-hour-game during one month. People could participate either in group or solo. As one of the rules of the contest was to use RPG Maker as the game making software, I decided to participate. Some of you might remember that I used to write some tutorials and devlogs about my RPG Maker projects a few years back at my previous website (palmunderpalm.com). This game jam felt like a good opportunity to get back into the world of RPG Maker and try my hands on the newest version of it: RPG Maker MV. I also had an idea of a horror kind of game in my head, so I was all set to give a try.
Ever since I started to learn game development, one of my dream projects has been to create a horror RPG. Games such as Silent Hill, Ao Oni and The Witch’s House have been an inspiration to me, and as a big fan of horror genre, I’ve been thinking that maybe I could also come up with an idea that would entertain other gamers. Therefore, In this contest I created a game called The Sculptor, which was mostly inspired by Saw (movie) and Silent Hill. The Sculptor’s idea goes as follows:
You are Edison – a young boy who has been tied up inside a barrel. Minute after minute the barrel keeps filling with clay. You are starting to panic. In the barrel, however, you find a radio controller, which you can use to control an RC car. Everything the RC car sees is transmitted to the barrel via a web camera. Can you make it out in time?
As you can see, the theme of the game is quite similar to Saw: the protagonist wakes up trapped inside a barrel, and the game begins immediately (this kind of a sudden start is more likely to arouse player’s interest, I think). The puzzles of the Sculptor, on the other hand, are more like in Silent Hill: not so brutal but more mysterious. Real life room escape games were a huge inspiration to the Sculptor as well. In those games players are set in the middle of some tense situation and they have exactly 60 minutes to figure out how to get out. That’s exactly what the Sculptor is about: 60 minutes of tense puzzle solving in order to escape a horrific outcome.
The Sculptor was my first game project where I tried to design and plan almost everything before actually developing anything. I also tried to measure my usage of time throughout the whole project. I did these because of my prior experience and because more experienced developers usually advice you to do so. As they say: something well planned is more than half done. That’s true in my opinion as well. Game jams such as this one are great at helping you develop these skills because of the strict time limits they set. In Indie Game Maker Contest 2017 I had approximately four weeks to do everything I needed in order to create the Sculptor: writing the script, acquiring/creating all the audio and graphic assets, developing the game and testing it thoroughly. All of these by myself in four weeks AND alongside my day job. Now in retrospect this sounds a bit challenging but in reality it wasn’t. With careful planning and scheduling I managed to create the game by working only 2-4 hours daily on the project.
As you can see from the adjacent picture, The Sculptor took me 71.25 hours total to develop it. The first phase of my development process was “Scripting”, which took me 9.75 hours. My idea was to write and design the whole plot so that I would always know what I need to develop next later in the “Developing”-phase. This was also my first time writing any scripts like this, and I can surely say that the whole project felt more professional when started this way. I even went so far that I got myself a proper screenwriting software and learned how to do screenwriting like they do in the movie industry! It never hurts to learn something new. In the end, the script got written piece by piece – and usually I came up with ideas of new rooms and puzzles when I was doing something totally else – like walking my dog. The subconscious mind works cunningly.
When the script was complete (about 10 pages), it was time to start creating the game. Before launching RPG Maker MV I, however, had to find all the assets to bring my script to life. First I went through a phase I call “Photoshopping”: it was about creating all the custom images that I needed for the game. Then I continued to the “Developing”-phase and started to search for different kinds of audio and graphic assets that I could use. My intention was not to create all the assets by myself but to find (and possibly buy) as much as possible so that I would have more time for the actual game development. Vexed Enigma’s POP! horror assets turned out to be just the kind of graphic assets that I was looking for: perfect asset packs for making a pixel art horror game. As for the world of sound, I chose to use only two music tracks: a suspense theme from Murray Atkinson’s Sinister Hollows and the game’s main theme from JDBArtist’s Inspirational Vol. 1. Almost all of the sound effects were either created by me or downloaded from freesound.org (credits for all the assets are included in the game).
The four weeks of creating the Sculptor were planned as follows: 1 week for scripting, 1 week for photoshopping and acquiring assets, and 2 weeks for developing the game and publishing it. According to my measurement it took me 54.25 hours to acquire all the assets and develop the game. In the end, however, my scheduling didn’t work exactly like I planned and I had to work crunch time. When there was no more than two days until the end of the competition I worked almost around the clock. I remember how I managed to create and polish the last three areas of the game and all the endings in one single day. That felt like a huge accomplishment, and I think it was all thanks to having a complete script written beforehand. If I wouldn’t have known what I need to develop next, there would’ve been no chance of me creating so big portion of the game in one single day and with the quality I wanted.
So how was the Sculptor received? To my surprise, the game got into Top 10 ranked as 7th (out of ~250 entries) by Judge’s Choice. The Sculptor was especially praised of its “clever” and “rewarding” puzzles and “intense” atmosphere. According to the reviews and comments, the milieu and the world of sound fit the theme perfectly. Some players, however, felt like there were some red herrings and some lack of dialogue, and I completely understand that. When there is a strict time limit to create a game like this, this kind of feedback is expectable. I was also amazed to hear that some players hoped that the game would’ve continued from the point it ended, or that I would make another and longer version of the game. These are certainly things to consider, but the thing is, it was actually a difficult task to design and create an amount of puzzles that would please all kinds of players despite their age or experience in these kind of games. Without having any other testers than me it was also difficult to estimate whether other players can complete the game in 60 minutes or not. Lucky for me, the completion rate of the Sculptor was near 50 % amongst all the commentators. Some of those who didn’t manage to complete the game also wished that there would’ve been a save option or some additional features for skipping some scenes. This is understandable, but if the matter is considered more closely, there aren’t any save or skip options in any real life room escape games either, are there? I didn’t design the Sculptor to be re-playble but rather a one-time experience: try it once, and if you manage to complete the game, congratulations! A retry can no way provide the same kind of experience since the time limit would lose its effect.
To conclude, Indie Game Maker Contest 2017 was a really positive experience for me. I got a game done in one month and I got to play plenty of other great games made by awesome people. If you haven’t tried any of the contest games yet, you can play them in the contest site. The Sculptor can be downloaded from my website or here. I’ve been thinking about making a mobile version of the Sculptor, but we’ll see about that. When you do gamedev, who knows where you end up!
Thanks for reading.