Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The early art dilemma

When I worked at Elixir and Lionhead I often got really distressed over how much artwork got thrown away. It seemed mad to spend so much time and money on getting artwork, only to ditch it and start again. Some of this was just typical inefficiency, but some of it becomes more understandable the longer you work in games.

games are very visual things. We can rant about game play vs graphics all we like, but the first impression of 99% of games is visual. It’s REALLY hard work to slog away 10 hours a day, every day on a game that actually looks really bad. Most coder art is really bad, so in order to get an idea of whether or not the game will feel any good, and to inspire you to work hard and believe in the current game, it’s important to have something that looks nice as soon as you can.

There are two approaches to this. One is to spend a lot more time than you usually do on really polishing your ‘coder art’. I’ve spent some time doing this. I know my way around photoshop, and I’ve read hundreds of tutorials over the years on how to do all sorts of arty things. I still do some of the artwork for my games (less and less of it each game. The problem with doing this is it takes up a lot of time.

The alternative is to pay an artist to do some work before you really know what style you want, or if you will keep it. This can bexcellent, because they can prompt you into a new direction, or just turn out higher quality stuff, but it also obviously costs money. Indie games are done on a shoestring. Wasting money on artwork you know you will not ship with the game is scary. But right now, looking at my mystery new game and it’s crappy coder art, I am tempted to spend a few dollars and get a proper artist to mock up some basic stuff for me…

Exchange Rates

Do you want to be a currency speculator? Because if you are outside the USA and considering a career doing what I do, you might have to become one.

Most games sales come from the US, and generally people tend to price their games in dollars. Plus, most of the big sales portals charge in dollars, and (more importantly) pay the developers in US dollars. I’m in the UK, and this means two big things.

  • I have to pay a fortune each time in bank fees when the money gets converted into UK Pounds
  • I am at the mercy of exchange rates.

Recently, the pound and the dollar have been all over the place. here is a 3 month chart:

Generally it’s been good news, because a stronger dollar and a weaker pound means I earn more for each game I sell in the US.  However it’s not that simple, because I tend to pay for my advertising in dollars. Advertising is my major expense, once the games are done, so it really matter if the adverts are suddenly 20% more expensive than they were a week ago. As a result, one of the many parts of my daily routine is to keep an eye on the exchange rate to see if now is a good time to stick some money in the advertising account and get a few free dollars (effectively) by ‘picking my moment’.

If I was really organised I’d probably have a US bank account that people could pay into (in dollars) and avoid a lot of currency-changing fees. Does anyone know how easy it is for a UK busienss to open a US bank account?

New Toy

I posed for a picture once brandishing a klingon knife. It was my blog picture for ages. because of that pic, some people have developed an impression of me as a homicidal maniac with anger management issues. This isn’t helped by my hobby of shooting a recurve bow (at targets, not animals). I want to reassure everyone that i am a lovely cat-loving human being who is not at all a weapon-obsessed freak.

On an unrelated topic, a mate of mine gave me a late birthday present today. Holy crap its tough to load (80 pounds draw).

It’s a crossbow pistol, clearly :D


Today I’ve spent the whole morning working on getting my old particle engine editor doodad from Rock Legend (used to do the pyro effects) in a fit state to use for my next game (should that continue to be my next game).

I’m often amazed at how crap my tools are in comparison to everyone else (maybe that’s why i get the games done though?). Anyway, this is the most feature-rich tool I’ve ever had for one of my games (and It’s not finished yet).

Interview and AI

Here’s a nice little blog interview with yours truly:

I spent a lot of today doing some basic AI for my mystery new game Just the very basics so that I have stuff on screen actually doing something. I’m quite pleased with it so far, although at the start of a game there is always a quick rush of instant results before the debugging and re-factoring sets in later :D

It’s amazing how much time can be involved in being an indie developer. Apart from all the actual work on games today there is all the email stuff to handle, ad budgets to tweak, website changes to make and financial spreadsheety and invoicy things to do. It’s a full-time job and then some.