Update: I decided to open up the game for free again for now -- feel free to try it on the play page. The latest blog post brought in a lot of helpful feedback, and one of the big takeaways is that the semi-temporary graphics there now are turning off a lot of people. So I'll likely bring on an artist at some point and reconsider the Early Access thing again when that's in better shape.

The dev process was kinda prototype -> gameplay -> playtesting -> graphics (in progress), so the gameplay's a lot farther along than the rest.


Infinitroid Dev Blog

Status update and future plans

Just wanted to check in real quick on the status of the game, since my last somewhat ominous post.

I've been enjoying doing some small creative projects for the last month or so:

It's refreshing doing things that take 2-3 days, rather than 2-3 years!

I'll be tied up the next couple months--my girlfriend Nina and I are moving from Santa Cruz, CA, where I've lived for over 11 years now, to the Oregon coast. I'm pretty excited about it--looks like we can get a much nicer place for the same cost as we're paying in this insanely overpriced market, and I'll still be able to surf & kitesurf and hopefully be close enough to the Portland tech industry to participate in occasional meetups and other such things.

In the meantime I've been doing a deep dive on market research, getting familiar with all the popular and semi-popular games that have come out over the last 2-3 years. A lot of people who read the previous blog post have groused about "another metroidvania" or "another platformer" and while I don't want to set my whole agenda based on internet grousing, I do realize I've been focusing so much on developing this one that I've lost track a bit of what's out there, besides the mega-popular stuff everybody hears about.

Thus, I'm not even sure what even qualifies as unique in the current landscape. To be different you have to know what the hell is out there, and there's a flood of to stay up to date on at the moment. So, I'll be schooling myself, doing some serious market research, and hopefully getting some insight into where Infintroid might fit into it all. I don't think the fundamentals of the game are going to change, but maybe there's room to innovate aesthetically, or strengthen and deepen the parts of the game that are unique.

Aesthetics and art were always going to be the last step of my development process, so I'm going to take a step back and see if there's an achievable way to make it stand out. That might be hiring an artist, or coming up with a style that's unique & doable for me, perhaps using Google Deep Dream for a lot of the graphics, or 3D scanning some real life objects ala The Swapper.

So that's pretty much it--moving, market research, and then hopefully finding a unique aesthetic for the game and wrapping it up.

Did I just waste 3 years?

I had trouble sleeping on Monday night.

My mind was circling around some staggering recent game industry stats, and some foreboding writings from prominent indie developers. And around the fact that, for the 3 years I've invested on this project, only 4 copies have sold so far.

Those four sales were from generous folks who already had free access to the game, but wanted to support its development (thank you guys). New sales, from new visitors to the site (1,016 since I put the game on sale in November) are currently at zero.

Zero. Yikes.

As bleak as that is, with previous unpaid players the game has had its fans. 368 people had created free accounts before it went on sale. Based on analytics, people have played about 1,080 hours, and many still play daily or weekly. The game has gotten positive feedback when shared on forums, reddit, etc.

1,016 is not a huge number of visitors in internet terms, and perhaps I just need to drive in more traffic. But 0% is not the most encouraging conversion rate!

Industry mayhem and the indie tidal wave

This has been covered elsewhere, but while I had my head down working, the game industry experienced a gigantic thermonuclear explosion. Sometimes referred to as the indie tsunami / indiepocalypse, it detonated in 2014 or so, right before I started on Infinitroid.

Below is the number of annual Steam releases, year-by-year, thru 2017:

(sources: Steam Spy and Grid Sage Games)

Not only the total number of games, but the rate of their release seems to be geometrically increasing! Holy crap. And while many of them are Unity shovelware, etc., many are polished games that a lot of effort went into. A tiny percentage are hits, but most are forgotten in the deluge.

Some prominent developers have been surprised by the relative lack of success of their recent releases--Mark Morris and Chris Delay from Introversion Games, after a string of successes, found their innnovative latest game Scanner Sombre to be a total flop (discussed in their video here). Edmund McMillen's The End Is Nigh sold quite modestly despite his past blockbusters like Super Meat Boy and Binding of Isaac, and his prominence in the indie world. Cliff Harris of Positech Games warns on his blog:

You are reading the thoughts of a guy who was coding since age 11, has 36 years coding experience, has shipped over a dozen games, several of which made millions of dollars, got into indie dev VERY early, knows a lot of industry people, and has a relatively high public profile. And still almost NOBODY covered my latest game (in terms of gaming websites). Its extremely, extremely tough right now.

Like most gamers, I have a backlog of dozens of purchased-but-never-played Steam games picked up at ridiculously low prices from Humble Bundles, Steam sales, etc. Does the world need any more games at this point?

So, I'm pretty discouraged. I seem to have arrived very late to the party, and there are broken bottles and passed-out revelers everywhere. It's not inconceivable that Infinitroid might still have a shot (I think it does many things well, some of them quite unique) but the prospects are looking more bleak by the day.

Financial matters

As it stands, I've put in 2,600+ hours and written 62,176 lines of code (mostly C++). The game's made $27.92 in income, which nets out at about $0.01 per hour. Had I spent the time washing dishes at $7.25 / hour (a 725x more lucrative job) I'd have made a cool $19k!

I'm not a dumb guy--I got good SAT scores. I'm disciplined, I have a good work ethic, and I love what I do. I'm a lifelong learner, always evaluating my work and experimenting with new approaches. Should I be failing this badly?

Of course money isn't everything, and I've had a lot of fun building and sharing the game. But I did have some hope of creating something that a lot of people would check out and enjoy, and making some return on my time investment, perhaps enough to keep doing this as an independent career.

What's next

I don't like to spend too much time feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on the past, at least more than needed to learn from it--and it's perhaps too early to declare complete failure--so I plan to keep experimenting with marketing and finish the game in some form. But it doesn't look good right now, and I'm really questioning how much more of my time I want to keep pouring into this when there are other fun, potentially profitable things I could be doing with my remaining creative years that could make a positive difference in the world.

Abandoning the game completely doesn't seem like a sane option, after all the time I put in. I'm kinda floundering right now and not really sure what to do, but a few random thoughts I've had over the past few days:

  • Do the minimal work to wrap it up satisfactorily, release it, and be able to call it finished.
  • Put development on hold, and just focus on marketing for a while; try price drops, promotions, pay-what-you-want, free trials etc.; decide what's next based on the results of that.
  • Treat it as a purely hobby project: work on it when I feel like it, and only on the parts that are fun for me. It may take years to finish but perhaps it'll turn out something cool and unique in the end.
  • Make it into an ethical game experiment: reduce addictive qualities of the game, e.g. allow players to set the amount of time they want to spend on it and get a friendly reminder to stop at the end; try to make it benefit people's lives beyond just consuming their time (this has been on my mind a lot lately, something I had hoped I could foster in the game's story but haven't fully realized--more on this in a future post).
  • Continue as I have been, pour a lot more time in, improve graphics and music, add more levels and variety, and release a finished product I'm proud of, even if it's a total commercial flop (not sure I have the energy for it right now but it's still an option).

For the moment, I have an urge to put my creativity elsewhere, perhaps do some one-week or even one-day projects for a change, so we'll see. But, if anyone has any feedback, I'd appreciate it--on marketing, potential blind spots in my thinking here, how the game is presented, perspective on the industry right now, comforting words, tough love, etc.!

Thanks for listening.

Build 0039

OK, one more low-hanging-fruit release here. My time is finally freeing up for major game work again, aside from a little project in a couple weeks, so expect some bigger updates soon.

Here's what's new in this one:

  • Gameplay improvements to 20 existing rooms, plus 2 new rooms.
  • Better "ledge fall" handling: no more weird bouncing / vibrating when you're perched on the corner of a tile, and hopefully a good balance now between being able to jump into 1-tile holes when you want to, and being able to land on platforms.
  • Fix for a mapping problem with the weapon screen quick-move key (this bug).

Build 0038

Another small update--my freelance / day job is still busy so haven't had a lot of time for Infinitroid work. Should be freeing up in a couple weeks though, and then I can get back to the big stuff.

Anyway here's what's new in this build:

  • 5 new room layouts--mostly in the "fleshy" zone. Lots more possibilities to explore there.
  • 14 improved room layouts--many of these were rooms with a "cheap but safe" strategy, like shooting in one place while tech cubes circle around the room and waiting for enough stray bullets to hit. Tried to spice these up with more risk and more dynamic layouts.
  • Guided Shot now extends range too (to allow more time to control projectiles).
  • Fixed a bug where worlds were occasionally generating with way too many rooms.
  • Added a small delay when enemies are spawned from eggs, to give a split second to dodge (might make this longer).
  • Fixed the bug Ignatheis mentioned where you can get perma-stuck in low-ceiling spike pits.
  • Fixed the inadvertent-grub-jump-requirement bug Fordiman found in the brutal secret rooms.

That's all for now. All that's left is to finish the 2nd zone, add a couple more zones, add a bunch more secret stuff, add a ton of unlockable progression stuff, make a proper soundtrack, improve the graphics, release it on Steam, market the crap out of it, fix a bunch of weird hardware bugs I didn't forsee, read reviews, google myself a lot, experience the joy of finishing, experience post-partum depression of finishing, bask in my newfound wealth and/or poverty, take a little vacation, and decide what to do next with my life. So stay tuned :)

Build 0037

It's been a busy couple weeks with holiday family visits and such, so just another low-fruit update today.

Droppers (the lava-dropping guys that cling to the ceiling) no longer check for line of sight now when attacking the player; instead they'll trigger anytime you're below them and within about 1 tile horizontally.

It's a little more predictable and allows for some new tactics, triggering them from a tunnel or protected space underneath:

I added 5 new room layouts that take advantage of that, and also made some tweaks to previous ones.

Check it out on the play page and as always let me know if you run into any problems.

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